CRAWFORD | Pitino says Onuaku has successful heart procedure, predicts first-round selection
University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino said Chinanu Onuaku had a successful heart procedure in Chicago Wednesday, and that he still expects him to enter the NBA Draft. Pitino also updated his expectations for his team next season, and the NCAA investigation facing the program.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- University of Louisville center Chinanu Onuaku underwent a successful cardiac procedure in Chicago on Wednesday.
Louisville coach Rick Pitino said, "The surgery went great, it was outpatient, he's already out and everything went great."
The cardiac ablation procedure scars small areas in the heart that may be involved in abnormal electrical signals or rhythms. The procedure is expected to permanently correct a condition discovered in Onuaku known as Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW) syndrome.
Despite the medical obstacle, Pitino reiterated his expectation that Onuaku will remain in the draft during an interview with WDRB Wednesday night.
"I think he's going to stay in," Pitino said. "I've felt that just from the way he was talking at the end of the year, and I felt we would be OK because we've got three other centers and numbers-wise I think Mangok (Mathiang) and Anas (Mahmoud) can give us about the same numbers, so I'm excited about that."
Onuaku helped himself as much as any big man at the NBA pre-draft combine in Chicago last week, and has four workouts scheduled after he's cleared to return to the court, which he said on Wednesday would be in about 5-10 days.
"Nanu has been driven to go this year. And that's a good thing," PItino said. "That's why he played well in the combine and why he'll be good in workouts. . . . I really, firmly believe he's going to be a first-round pick. He's young . . . and that's what the NBA looks for. He's also a great defensive player, he improved his passing, he improved his free-throw shooting, and he's got a great upside, and that's what the NBA looks for."
Pitino said that the medical procedure Onuaku underwent Wednesday might actually help him become a better basketball player. He wasn't sure whether that condition -- which can make the heart beat more rapidly -- played into Onuaku's problems with fatigue and becoming winded, but several people have brought that up.
"I don't know," Pitino said. "I thought the same thing, was that one of the reasons he got winded? And it could be. I don't know. I'd have to ask (U of L trainer) Fred (Hina) that. His godmother said the same thing to me, 'Coach, I bet you that's the reason he got tired.'"
As for his returning team, Pitino says he's excited, and that if Onuaku doesn't return, it'll be a major opportunity for several of his interior players.
"I don't think it's going to make a difference in our basketball team," Pitino said. "Nanu gave us something different. But the other guys give us something different. But the chemistry is going to be great. Let's say I started Nanu, with Mangok at the power forward spot. Now Jaylen (Johnson) and Ray (Spalding) are going to have a problem. Or let's say I start Nanu and Jaylen, well then Mangok is going to have a problem. Somebody was going to have a problem, and it might not have been the great chemistry that we had this year. So next season, it'll be great chemistry because everybody's going to get major minutes."
Pitino, as he has done in other interview, praised the potential of sophomore-to-be Deng Adel, who will step into the starting small forward spot after the departure of Damion Lee.
"Terrence Williams and Reece Gaines were both lottery picks," Pitino said. "I think Deng Adel, before it's all said and done, whether it's this year or his junior year, I think Deng will be the highest draft pick we've had. He's going to be a special player."
If Onuaku doesn't return, Pitino said the Cardinals may keep his scholarship open to fulfill the terms of self-imposed scholarship reductions the school placed on the program earlier this year.
Sources close to the investigation have told WDRB that Pitino has met with NCAA investigators in a single interview that lasted more than three hours nearly two weeks ago. Pitino said he has been instructed not to discuss details of NCAA matters or even whether such an interview took place. He did say again he's hopeful that the program's self-imposed sanctions will be enough.
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