Arizona Basketball

Zeke was a Freak vs. NAU … More to likely Come

So there Zeke Nnaji was getting a steal then racing/dribbling a good part of the court for a nice impressive basket.

The game against Northern Arizona was already in hand, en route to a 91-52 victory in the season opener.

Yet, here was this 7-footer with the grace of a smallish forward, acting like a guard but playing like a center.

Zeke proved he can be a freak on the court. Welcome to Game One of what appears to be a pretty good future.

“It’s great,” Nnaji said of his debut and being out there. “It was finally great to play my first game. The crowd was great. I really enjoyed it.”

Great and great.

And why not? Zeke the Freak had a game-high 20 points, hitting 9 of 12 shots. And although he doesn’t make anyone forget former UA star DeAndre Ayton, he sure does help ease the pain of the departure.

Stone Gettings & Zeke Nnaji at the postgame podium in UA’s 91-52 win over NAU.

“He’s a freshman, but it doesn’t seem like he plays like that,” said senior teammate Stone Gettings. “I’ve been going at him for the past three, four months now and it’s not too surprising, to say the least.

“He’s been killing it every day.”

One game doesn’t make for a great samples size, but Nnaji was sure impressive. Then came the comparisons. Hmm. I was thinking a little bit of Donnell Harris given his long and lanky physique … and hair. A little of Keanu Pender given his athletic versatility. And then Jordan Hill for his rawness of talent and potential.

Sean Miller went even one further – a surprise – in former UA star Derrick Williams, a versatile forward who could hit shots from near and far. Wednesday night, Nnaji almost did that, nearly hitting a 3-pointer in the second half.

“I can shoot the three; I can shoot the two,” he said. “I’m a versatile forward and do whatever the coach asks me (to do).”

He added: “I’m not trying to force anything, just trying to play within the offense. Tonight, just happened to be my night.”

If Wednesday is any indication there should be plenty of these kinds of nights. He was impressive.

“I thought Zeke Nnaji was outstanding,” Miller said. “He played tonight like he plays all the time.”

Miller said Zeke The Freak is “explosive and strong” and as much as UA needs him and loves him on offense “he gives us length, quickness and size and makes us a much deeper team.”

Depth won’t be a problem in the frontcourt nor the backcourt, but the former was the feature on Wednesday. Forward Gettings added 13 points, hitting three of four from beyond the 3-point line. Freshman Christian Koloko was impressive again, despite only four points. He had a team-high tying six rebounds. Chase Jeter added seven points.

Now back to Nnaji, who was Arizona’s highlight and Miller’s comparison to Williams, who like Zeke came to UA a bit under the radar given the crown jewels of the recruiting class were Nico Mannion and Josh Green.

Still, Miller said Nnaji deserves praise in part because of his physical explosiveness.

“He’s not a big, strong guy who can’t move but he’s a big strong guy who can really move,” Miller said. “The skies the limit. He has a bright future. I’m glad we have him.”

It beats the alternative.

Zeke the Freak already finds himself in the starting lineup (it would be hard-pressed to see him lose that job) and leading offensively. But it’s not a surprise to the man who recruited him.

“I think Zeke was one of high school’s best players a year ago,” he said. “He’s definitely of the best freshmen in college basketball.”

Wednesday, he showed it.

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