CRAWFORD | After a day of deliberation, Onuaku opts to leave Lou - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | After a day of deliberation, Onuaku opts to leave Louisville, stay in draft

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WDRB photo by Eric Crawford WDRB photo by Eric Crawford
Chinanu Onuaku with Rick Pitino after the team's arrival in Puerto Rico last summer. (WDRB photo by Eric Crawford) Chinanu Onuaku with Rick Pitino after the team's arrival in Puerto Rico last summer. (WDRB photo by Eric Crawford)

LOUISVILLE, Ky, (WDRB) -- The departure of Chinanu Onuaku for the NBA surprised no one who had talked to the sophomore big man since the end of last season at the University of Louisville, least of all Cardinals' coach Rick Pitino, who has been operating under the assumption that he would leave his name in the NBA Draft when Wednesday's deadline rolled around.

But his announcement Wednesday confused everybody. Pitino, who has said for months that Onuaku will remain in the draft, told several media outlets Wednesday afternoon just that. There was just one snag.

Onuaku, it seems, had not made his decision. In fact, he said just that in an Instagram post at around 4 p.m. His actual decision, via Instagram, didn't come until 9 p.m

"After talking to my family and going through the NBA process, me and my family have decided that it would be best for me to keep my name in the draft," Onuaku said via Instagram. "I will take the Terry Rozier route and work my way into the first round. I have talked to Coach Pitino and he is behind me 100 percent. Thank you to my family and friends for all of the support, love and prayers that you have given me. I would like to thank the University of Louisville for giving me the opportunity to get an education and play for the university. I would also like to thank all of my coaches for coaching and teaching me the past two years. . . . I love the city of Louisville and I know that I will be a Cardinal forever."

Onuaku did have a great deal to think about. While he says he believes that he could be taken in the first round, and Pitino felt confident of it in a discussion with WDRB last week, a recent minor heart procedure threw an element of doubt into the works, and word had begun to spread late Tuesday that Onuaku might be mulling a return to Louisville.

Pitino took to the radio on Wednesday afternoon to proclaim his certainty that Onuaku was headed to the NBA, and to declare that he thinks his team will be as good without him as it would have been with him. He also said, however, that if Onuaku had a change of heart, he would have "no issue" taking him back.

Onuaku averaged 9.9 points, ranked eighth in the ACC in rebounding with 8.5 boards per game and was third in the ACC in blocked shots (2.0 per game, 41st in the nation) while shooting 61.9 percent from the field.  The All-ACC Defensive Team selection led UofL with 36 dunks.

But even without Onuaku, Pitino said his expectations for next season's team aren't diminished.

"I'm excited about the team," Pitino said. "I figured that Nanu was staying in, just from the way he was talking at the end of the year, and I felt it would be OK because we've got 3 other centers and numbers-wise I think Mangok (Mathiang) and Anas (Mahmoud) can give us the same type of numbers, and I'm excited about that."

Onuaku's strengths seem built for a long NBA career. He's a good rebounder and passer, has improved setting screens and defends well around the basket. He's not listed as a consensus first-round draft pick, but could go early in the second round or sneak into the late first depending on workouts.

"Nanu has been driven to go this year," Pitino said. "And that's a good thing. 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."

Without Onuaku, Pitino has a three-player rotation at center and two players at the power forward spot, with Mathiang, Mahmoud and Stockman at center and Jaylen Johnson and Ray Spalding at the four spot.

"I don't think it's going to make a difference in our basketball team," Pitino told WDRB last week. "Nanu gave us something different, but the other guys give us something different. And, you know, the chemistry is going to be great because, let's hypothetically say I start Nanu (at center) and Mangok at the power forward spot. Well, now Jaylen and Ray are going to have a problem. And 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 wasn't going to be the great chemistry we had this year. So next year, we're going to have great chemistry because everybody's going to get major minutes."

In a statement released by U of L after Onuaku's announcement, Pitino said: "

“We thank Nanu for the great effort he has given the University of Louisville. We are proud of the improvements he has made as a basketball player and as a young man.  He’s extremely young with great potential and there’s not a doubt in my mind that he will go into his individual workouts and show everyone what he’s all about.”

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