CRAWFORD | As he embarks on NBA journey, Onuaku could be worse t - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | As he embarks on NBA journey, Onuaku could be worse things than 'robotic'

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Former University of Louisville center Chinanu Onuaku meets with reporters for the first time before beginning summer league play for the Houston Rockets (Houston Rockets screen shot) Former University of Louisville center Chinanu Onuaku meets with reporters for the first time before beginning summer league play for the Houston Rockets (Houston Rockets screen shot)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — It’s summertime, and we’ll seize on any little thing to blow up for a couple of days until more substantive news comes along.

This week’s first example: A quote by former University of Louisville center Chinanu Onuaku in his first meeting with the media in Houston before Rockets’ NBA Summer League began last week.

Onuaku was asked if he feels his game is suited to the NBA style of play, and he said, “A little bit. In college they tell you what to do and you do it, but here they kind of let you play a little more.”

Later, when asked to expound on that, Onuaku said, “I mean, I just don’t feel like a robot.”

That was enough to set off speculation over whether it was a “shot” at the style of Louisville coach Rick Pitino. After listening to the whole interview, as was the case with a John Calipari podcast interview in New York a couple of weeks ago -- I'm not so sure it was. Still, It wouldn’t be the first time a player had spoken with less-than fondness for Pitino's style.

Last summer, Wayne Blackshear famously said, “Playing for coach Pitino … it was tough. He wants to get the best out of you. He pushed me to new heights and made me a tougher person. But I believe I should have had more opportunities to show what I could do. I had to become a spot-up shooter in college — that’s not me. I learned to keep my mouth shut and keep moving forward.”

And of course, during the season a year ago, transfer guard Trey Lewis said, “It’s tough as a player, to play sometimes under a leash. That’s tough. When you are constantly looking over your shoulder wondering if you are getting taken out. That’s tough as a player, but you have to find a way to mentally get over those things. . . . It’s tough when you are playing with shackles it seems like.”

In the case of Lewis and Blackshear, there was a bit of excuse-making. Lewis, for example, virtually tied Quentin Snider for second-most minutes on the team and took the second-most shots on the team. Pitino pleaded with Blackshear, Louisville fans remember, to become more aggressive offensively and get to the rim more often.

In summer league play, Lewis has played 7.7 minutes per game and taken three shots in three games. In four summer league games in Orlando, Blackshear went 5-20 from the field and averaged 5.3 points in 15.5 minutes per game.

Sometimes freedom isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

As for Onuaku, I’m not entirely sure, from the context, that he meant anything by his comments. It’s certainly possible. But for what he is going to be asked to do by the Rockets, he could be far worse things than robotic.

So far in three summer league games, he has gone 2-7 from the field, averaged 1.3 points, and grabbed 14 rebounds — including a game-high nine in a win over Sacramento on July 10, his best overall outing so far.

Still, his average of 4.7 rebounds per game is fewer than former college teammates Montrezl Harrell and Terry Rozier are averaging. In fact, former Cardinal Chane Behanan is averaging more rebounds (5.0) in less than half the minutes (9 per game).

In an interview with reporters in Houston, Harrell said of him, “He’s a young guy who still has a lot to learn. I feel he definitely going to have to learn to change from that Louisville locker room and a college locker room to an NBA locker room. But I feel like he’s going to pick that up by being around a bunch of older, more mature guys. . . . He’s very versatile with his height and length can definitely use him on the defensive end. On the offensive end, as log as he plays hard. . . . But on defense, he brings the versatility to be able to sit down and guard switches.”

There is work for the big man to do — some of it likely in the Developmental League, after going with the 37th overall pick in the second round. But what Onuaku figures to do well — defend, rebound, screen and pass — is a skill set that will keep him in the league a long time, if he perfects it.

Robotic isn’t always a bad thing.

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