RICHMOND, Va. – VCU Coach Will Wade surprised everybody, including his sports information director, Thursday afternoon when he revealed freshman center Jonathan Nwankwo had been ruled eligible immediately by the NCAA for four years of competition.
Wade quickly pivoted.
“With that said, we’re going to redshirt him,” he declared.
Nwankwo, a 6-foot-9, 245-pound center from Nigeria by way of the Bronx, N.Y., originally signed with Minnesota and fielded offers from Tennessee, Seton Hall, Boston College and others. It was originally unclear when and for how many years Nwankwo would be eligible, due to the differences in the structure of school systems in Nigeria and the United States, as well as a year Nwankwo was out of school with his ailing mother. He moved to the United States four years ago.
Wade assured reporters that Nwankwo’s eligibility was never a question of academics, and says the freshman is a computer science major carrying a 3.5 grade point average.
The NCAA’s ruling settles a protracted compliance process that began months ago. Although Wade’s plan will be to sit and develop Nwankwo for a year, he’ll be allowed to practice with the team during that period.
“He’s gotten a lot better in his time here,” Wade said. “We’re going to continue to work on his catching and some of his movements. It takes a bigger guys a little bit longer to develop, and he’s going to be a really good player for us. For his development, this will be best.”
Even without Nwankwo, VCU is expected to be deeper in the post this season with the return of Mo Alie-Cox, Justin Tillman and Michael Gilmore, as well as the addition of junior college transfer Ahmed Hamdy-Mohamed.
CAL (PA.) AHEAD
VCU will meet California (Pa.) Friday in the Rams’ only exhibition contest prior to their Nov. 13 season-opener against Prairie View A&M. It will be the fourth exhibition meeting between the schools in the past six years. The Vulcans are coached by Bill Brown, a longtime friend and mentor of Shaka Smart.
Wade says the team is ready to hit the floor, but he hasn’t stopped evaluating the team.
“I’m looking for guys who play with a major sense of urgency,” he said. “I want effort on every play, not guys conserving based on what they think they need to conserve because they’re going to play this many minutes. I want guys who are playing every possession all out with unbelievable urgency, especially on the defensive end.”
Wade says he’s mapped out a game plan that includes a number of schemes and a plan for the distribution of minutes. He says he believes the Vulcans will be a valuable test for the Rams.
“Cal (Pa.) changes their defenses a lot, which is something we’ll see a lot early in the season,” Wade said. “[Bill Brown] plays 2-3 zone, he plays 1-3-1. That’ll help us. Like, Middle Tennessee State, there’s some other teams in the early portion of our schedule that will do that.”
Although Wade admits a natural proclivity for offense, or perhaps because of it, he says he’ll direct extra focus towards the defensive end of the floor Friday. The Rams have become synonymous with high-intensity, full-court press defense in recent years, which Wade says will continue, albeit with his personal touch.
“Offensively, we’ll have our days where we turn the ball over a little bit too much, but defensively we’ve really spent the bulk of our time this week on offense. We’ve got plenty of guys who can score. We’ve got plenty of guys who can make plays. It’s going to come down to getting stops and understanding schemes understanding the rotations and what we’re doing, Wade said.”
While the Rams have won the three previous contests, Wade says VCU will likely not continue the exhibition series.
“It’s [Bill Brown’s] last year. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense without him there,” Wade said.
Previously, VCU had maintained a long-running series with Division II neighbor Virginia Union, although it is unclear if that would resume. They last met in 2012.