Temple freshman Enechionyia sees better days ahead for Owls

Posted: June 12, 2014

AT AGE 13, Obi Enechionyia was miles away from the golden hardwoods of a southern basketball court.

Though basketball was always his preferred sport, up until eighth grade he was stuck navigating the emerald fields of a lush soccer pitch. But there was one key difference between Enechionyia and his teammates: his peers had to bend their heads backward and look toward the sky whenever they attempted to talk to him.

Enechionyia was a 6-2 eighth grader. It is that year that he thought it might be time to trade his soccer cleats for basketball sneakers.

"Before I was playing soccer, I always knew that if I got to a certain height I'll start playing basketball," Enechionyia said in a phone interview last week. "I started playing basketball in eighth grade and I was a benchwarmer until 10th grade. It takes hard work to get a scholarship to anywhere in a certain amount of years."

Enechionyia had a growth spurt after finishing grade school, and by time he was entering his sophomore year at the St. James School in Hagerstown, Md., he was listed at 6-8. Until his 10th grade year, he had to be patient and wait for his chance to show his then-hidden talent.

Now, the 6-9, 210-pounder, who last November signed his letter of intent to play basketball at Temple, is looking to help the Owls recover form the worst season in program history, when they went 9-22.

The Springfield, Va., native comes from a long line of high level basketball players. He played his AAU ball for Washington D.C.'s Team Takeover, which has produced Victor Oladipo, the second pick in last year's NBA Draft; Syracuse forward Jerami Grant, who is entering this year's draft; and current Villanova guard Josh Hart.

It took long gym sessions with future NBA talent to mold Enechionyia. Team Takeover became his new home away from the cold bench at the St. James School, where he stayed for two long, tedious seasons before breaking out.

"Playing with Team Takeover, that helped a lot," Enechionyia said. "Coming from Team Takeover I've seen what some of the players can do, even the ones that weren't highly recruited. I'm a hard worker and I can pretty much do everything on the court. For Temple, having a year like last season, none of the fans should be expecting the same."

Enechionyia turned down offers from Indiana, George Mason and others to play basketball for the Owls. He said his relationship with the coaching staff, specifically with assistant coach Dwayne Killings, is what brought him to Temple.

Though Enechionyia wasn't highly recruited and just began playing basketball at a high level two seasons ago, that hasn't stopped him from having genuine goals for Temple basketball. He predicts a big turnaround for the Owls.

"Realistically, I think we can win the conference and that's as real as it goes with me," Enechionyia said. "Win the conference and make it into the [NCAA] Tournament."

He added, "Not by myself, but we have a couple transfers coming in and I've seen everyone play, especially Jaylen Bond [from Plymouth-Whitemarsh by way of Texas], and I think I can make a big impact myself by doing what I do best: blocking shots and making an impact inside and outside."

The consensus top-100 rated player in the 2014 class will join a frontcourt that will include two seniors (Jimmy McDonnell and Nick Pendergrast), two juniors (Daniel Dingle and Devontae Watson) and one sophomore (Mark Williams) for what he hopes to be a redemption year.

And his confidence didn't plummet during Temple's poor showing last season. Basketball is Enechionyia's first love. He said negativity, even if it were coming from a tough sports city like Philadelphia, would not affect him. In fact, it's the opposite, he uses it as a form of motivation.

"I wasn't worried or anything," Enechionyia said when asked how he handled his senior season while Temple endured a 9-22 2013-14 season. "Things happen, injuries happen, and it was a really young team. I know it's going to be different next year. I never thought my first season would be how it was this past year. I'm expecting it to be a lot better obviously, it never really bothered me too much."

Enechionyia is expecting to work his way into key minutes for the Owls this upcoming season, but he has faith in his future teammates, saying "They're probably already in the gym working."

He's looking to do it in the same manner that got him from the soccer pitch to the basketball courts, with a higher level of hard work and grit than his competition, something that's caught the eye of Owls head coach Fran Dunphy.

"He's a good basketball player and he's a talented kid with good size and a knowledge of the game," Dunphy said. "We will see how ready he is to adapt to the college game, and as soon as that happens he will be thrown into the mix. The nice part about this is that we will get to work with him in the second summer session and see how he will fit with our team."

The confidence of Enechionyia, whether coming from landing athletic 360 dunks during practice or making an emphatic block at the rim on the defensive end, has grown since his days as a bench warmer. Outside of finding a way to get the Owls back to the NCAA Tournament, he wants to make the American Athletic Conference All-Rookie Team.

Four years ago, Enechionyia had his teammates, literally, looking up to him. Now, he's the short kid, figuratively, looking to learn and trying to carve out his spot as one of the best on North Broad Street.

"I can't tell you is going to be everything people want," Enechionyia said. "But what's going to set us apart is working hard. We are going to use last year's season as motivation. Having a season that bad can only help you to make sure you never let it happen again. As a freshman, it's not always that easy to do, I know that."

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