LAS VEGAS – Indiana’s music department could come in clutch with one of its top 2019 basketball targets.
Zeke Nnaji, a four-star, top-30 power forward from just outside Minneapolis, is arguably as good a pianist as he is a basketball player — he loves classical and jazz piano, in particular. And Indiana’s Jacobs School of Music is perennially ranked among the best in the country.
“(Associate head coach) Tom Ostrom was telling me a lot about that,” Nnaji told IndyStar on Thursday, with a wide grin.
Coaches think the 6-11 stretch forward would fit nicely in the basketball department, too.
Indiana offered Nnaji on May 31 in the middle of his spring stock explosion. He entered April as a relatively unknown three-star kid. Within a couple months, Nnaji had surged into the top 30 and earned a U17 National Team Trials invitation.
He isn’t the Hoosiers’ top power forward on their big board. That honor belongs to Center Grove’s Trayce Jackson-Davis, who is considered an IU lean. Nnaji might not be No. 2 or 3 either, as Archie Miller is also heavily pursuing Matthew Hurt and Trendon Watford.
But Miller could take more than one power forward for 2019. Assistant coach Ed Schilling was courtside to watch Nnaji and Hurt on Thursday. Make no mistake: IU would be thrilled if Nnaji came to Bloomington.
“They would really like to use my talents,” Nnaji said of Indiana’s recruiting pitch. “They think that I could be a stretch four, like a three or a four. They’d like me to put the ball down on the floor more and play off the wing, too. But also don’t go away from the post — use both.”
Nnaji, who plays with Hurt on the loaded D1Minnesota roster, said IU, UCLA, Arizona, Iowa, Baylor, Minnesota and Wisconsin are standing out right now in his recruitment. Ostrom is his main recruiter, and they text or talk on the phone routinely. Indiana recently dipped into D1Minnesota for Race Thompson in the 2017 class.
After July wraps up, Nnaji will trim his list and schedule visits. He said he’d like to visit Indiana. He’s got a Minnesota tie with the Hoosiers, too: Ostrom is from Fairbault, just about 50 miles south of Nnaji’s hometown Hopkins. He has an aunt in Fairbault, and he said he and Ostrom have talked about that connection quite a bit.
Nnaji also discussed his other top schools with IndyStar:
“They’ve always been a great program. Ever since John Wooden, they’ve been great. A lot of motion offenses are called ‘UCLA.’ They have a great history. They’re still very good and they still bring people to the NBA, like Lonzo (Ball) for example. I definitely think that I could see myself developing there, because they know what it takes to get to the next level.”
“Arizona has been great. I mean, Deandre Ayton. They’ve also developed a lot of players that people haven’t heard of — like two-, three-year players. They developed them into NBA players. They just know that it’s a process, and they know what the process is. They know what scouts are looking for to get you to the next level.”
“It’s definitely a place I could see myself going. They’re like family to me, talking to me all the time. I just feel really comfortable around them and could really see myself growing as a man and as a basketball player.
“If I go there, I’d start playing right away.(Fran McCaffery) really sees me as a stretch forward — someone that could put the ball on the floor, go post up, get rebounds and push it. Watching Tyler Cook, they said how they feed him a lot in the post and they think that I could do that — but also they say I’m like Luka (Garza), too, in how he stretches the floor. They really think of me as a stretch forward, who can go inside but outside as well.”
“I have a supervisor at my school named Al Nuness. His son, Jared Nuness, is (on staff) over there. So Al is always telling me to go to Baylor. It’s a good school. All the coaches over there have been texting me and making me feel comfortable with them.”
“I have a lot of friends that committed there. Gabe (Kalscheur), Daniel (Oturu), Jarvis (Omersa). That’d be cool to be going there with them. If we get Matthew (Hurt) and me, too, the in-state talent going far into the tournament — that’d be special right there.”
“They were the first to offer me. When they first offered me, they said I’m not there yet, but they definitely thought I could get there. And now they’re saying that my hard work is going to pay off. I’m really comfortable with them — Joe Krabbenhoft, Greg Gard. They’re great guys, and I know a couple of guys there. Nate Reuvers, Brad Davison, Tyler Wahl who’s my (D1Minnesota) teammate, too.”