USC standout Onyeka Okongwu declares for the NBA draft

After a single, shorter season in which he cemented his place as one of the most talented college basketball freshmen, USC striker Onyeka Okongwu is on his way to the NBA.

The Chino Hills High product declared its intentions on Wednesday, after a season in which it led USC in points (16.2), rebounds (8.6) and blocks (2.7). The 6-foot-9,245-pound Okongwu is expected to be a lottery in the upcoming design, making him the first Trojan to be so highly positioned since DeMar DeRozan finished ninth in 2009.

“All good things must come to an end,” Okongwu wrote in a statement on Twitter. “I want to take the next step if the opportunity arises.”

That next move was long envisioned by his coaches and teammates from the USC, even before the NCAA tournament was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. USC coach Andy Enfield has been anything but hesitant about Okongwu’s upcoming statement in recent weeks.

On Wednesday, shortly after Okongwu announced his decision, Enfield recalled a game during USC’s journey through Europe last summer, when the young Trojans’ big man took over in full.

“He made hooks, dipped them, bounced back, ran across the floor and blocked shots,” said Enfield. “I told my staff that we may have to take him out before he becomes an NBA candidate now. Everyone chuckled a little. But our coaches thought the same thing: “Let’s enjoy Onyeka this year, and hopefully he’ll help us win a lot of games, because we won’t have him for long.”

Senior striker Nick Rakocevic thought the same.

“I just knew then that this boy will no doubt be a lottery,” Rakocevic said. “It was clear.”

Okongwu comes at an especially uncertain time for the NBA, which has suspended operations, in an uncertain draft process. Some mock concepts list him as a potential top 10 pick, and with the likely shortened scouting process, Okongwu’s consistent production at USC could send him further to the draftboards.

It wasn’t long before Okongwu proved himself at university level. The former Times player of the year scored 20 points and scored double digits in points and rebounds in each of his first two games. He added nine more double doubles.

His score fluctuated during the conference slate when well-known opponents began to front and double him. Still, Okongwu scored the Trojans all season long to lead the Pac-12 in field goal percentage (61.6%) and offensive rebounds (3.3) per game.

It was Okongwu’s defense work that separated him as a prospect. Few big men in college were as adept at patrolling the paint as Okongwu; he had 76 blocks, the second in Pac-12.

“It’s very difficult as a freshman to get an average of 16 and eight in a team that wins 22 games. That’s what he did,” said Enfield. “He just has the natural ability to influence the game without scoring, which is a good thing is freshman. His energy and his rebound and his shot blocking, the way he ran the floor was really fun to watch. “

Okongwu was skipped freshmen during the conference in favor of Arizona’s Zeke Nnaji. His teammates were not shy to express their disappointment with the decision.

“I don’t know how they decide, but everyone knows he’s without a doubt the best freshman of the conference,” said security guard Jonah Mathews. “Zeke Nnaji, you praise him, but the most dominant, in and out, every game, was Onyeka.”

The former five-star sprang from the shadow of the Ball brothers in Chino Hills, where his dominance led to three state basketball titles.

Skyrocketing expectations accompanied his arrival at USC. He didn’t get a chance to test those expectations in the NCAA tournament. But Okongwu felt he had done enough to show that he belonged to the next level.

“What a ride it was, my freshman year at USC,” Okongwu wrote on Twitter. “My freshman campaign at school was nothing short of spectacular. To coach Enfield, Hart, Capko and Mobley, I would like to thank you for allowing a Chino child into your program. For my brothers on the team, the love and bond I have for you is real and will always be with me. “

Sturdy to transfer

Freshman guard Kyle Sturdivant, whose season was interrupted by his father’s unexpected death, has entered the transfer portal, Enfield said.

Sturdivant, a four-star recruit from Georgia, played a limited role as a backup point guard, averaging two points over eight minutes per game. In early February, Sturdivant’s father died in an accident.

USC added a player to Tahj Eaddy, a 6-2 guard who played in Santa Clara for the past three seasons. He is immediately eligible as a one season graduate transfer to play.

As a sophomore redshirt in Santa Clara, Eaddy led the team with 15 points per game. But his production declined during his junior season, as he averaged 9.1 points per game.

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