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An Introduction To EJ Onu

In the first of two pieces on Shawnee State standout and current NBA Draft prospect EJ Oni, Dakota Schmidt gives an overview of the 6’11 big’s background

Cody Madsen

From Saturday June 19th through Monday June 21st, forty prospects will be at the Wintrust Arena in Chicago, Illinois to participate in the 2021 NBA G League Elite Camp. This camp is meant to give players a chance to showcase their talents in front of NBA and G League coaches, scouts, and front-office executives by participating in strength and agility drills and playing in five-on-five scrimmages. The best participants throughout the three-day event will be invited to the 2021 NBA Draft Combine, which will be held in Chicago from June 21st through the 27th at Wintrust Arena and the Marriott Marquis.

While the upcoming G League Elite Camp is made up of players that are fighting to be one of the 60 players to hear their names called in next month’s NBA Draft, this field is made up of talent that college basketball fans are familiar with. Whether that’s NCAA champion Macio Teague, 2021 ACC Defensive Player of the Year Jose Alvarado, Big Ten Freshman of the Year Hunter Dickinson, First-Team All SEC guard Scotty Pippen Jr, or two First-Team All-PAC 12 Oscar Da Silva and Eugene Omoruyi, the level of talent that will be in Chicago this weekend is going to be high.

As those well-known players are rightfully the first name to pop off the screen when you first took a glance at that list, they won’t be the headlining act. That label should go to 6’11, 240 pound big E.J. Onu, who will be entering the NBA Draft after a four-year run with Shawnee State. While he played at a small school in a college league that isn’t exactly a hotbed for intriguing prospects, the impact and potential that he showed was major.

In regards to his actual impact on the team, Shawnee State went from going 14-17 and 4-10 in conference play during the big’s freshman season in 2017-18 to a stellar 31-2 record in 2020-21, which included a jaw-dropping 27 game winning streak. That winning streak was capped off by them winning the NAIA National Championship in a 74-68 victory over Lewis-Clark State College.

Obviously, a lot of that quick improvement over the course of a few seasons can be placed on the shoulders of the team’s head coach DeLano Thomas, who was the coach of the team during that entire stretch and helped develop his players to the point where four players were named to All-Conference teams. However, there was no doubt that Onu was the star of the team as he put up 16.9 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 4.6 blocks on 57% from the field and 40% from beyond the arc on 3.9 attempts per game. Those numbers allowed him to maintain a 66% True Shooting Percentage and 64% effective Field Goal Percentage.

To have some fun with his numbers, Onu’s 529 career blocks with Shawnee State is more than what David Robinson had with Navy (519), Tim Duncan with Wake Forest (481), Shaq had with LSU (412), or Alonzo Mourning with Georgetown (453). Mix that with a fantastic 3-point percentage for any player, let alone a 6’11 big that can protect the rim at the rate that our subject has, and you have the makings for one of the most intriguing players in this year’s NBA Draft if we’re just looking at sheer statistics.

That mix of volume, efficiency, and the tremendous success of his team ultimately led to the big receiving numerous accolades that included: Mid-South Conference Defensive Player of the Year, Mid-South Conference Player of the Year, and NAIA All-American. Onu would’ve probably been the Player of the Year if Indiana Wesleyan’s Kyle Mangas didn’t put up numbers that you’d only get if you were playing NBA 2k on Rookie or Pro mode, as he averaged 29.5 points, 7.4 rebounds, 5.1 assists, and 1.9 steals on 60% from the field and 39% from beyond the arc on 5.9 attempts per game.

Although it would’ve been cool to see Onu add another accolade to his ever-expanding mantle, the work that he did as a senior with Shawnee State was obviously impressive. However, the best is yet to come for the young big man as his status as an dominating rim protector, efficient perimeter threat, being a 6’11, 240 pound big with a 7’8 wingspan, and his background as a high school track star that can motor down the floor in transition are all things that should intrigue any NBA General Manager.

Obviously, that intrigue was enough to warrant him being added to an NBA G League Elite Camp that features some of the best college players from this past season. However, in both of my coverage on him and his potential as a player, I feel like we haven’t scratched the service of knowing who EJ Onu.