Phenom Hoop Report
Although Zimife Nwokeji has yet to sign the Letter Of Intent to play ball at Florida State University starting next fall, the native of Tallahassee is locked in as a future Seminole.
“I picked FSU because Tallahassee is a place where I mostly grew up, so it’ll be great to play in front of all of my loved ones and people that doubted me throughout the years,” Nwokeji told Ridiculous Upside.
Think what you want of those words, but Nwokeji is about to bring something to the court that is determination and the pure sense of revenge against the haters and doubters of his game still out there in the wild.
His mother and sister also graduated from FSU. I think we can agree on him having a bunch of reasons to go for the kill at the Donald L. Tucker Center when the new 2019-20 season rolls around.
The task won’t be easy playing for a college that happens to be placed in one of the hardest conferences of the nation, the ACC, which features schools such as Duke, Virginia, North Carolina, Clemson and Louisville. Not that it scares Nwokeji, though. A senior at Gainesville (FL) The Rock, he transferred from Maclay School this past winter after snatching the All-Big Bend Defensive Player of the Year award, adding some bling to his cabinet. Not that colleges weren’t aware of him already. He boasted offers from recognizable programs such as Mizzou and OSU, which he dumped at the chance of joining FSU.
The jump from Maclay to The Rock was notable. As a junior playing for Maclay School he posted great numbers averaging 17.1 ppg and 11.7 rpg while mostly wandering around the post during 26 games for the Marauders. The 6-foot-7, 180-pound forward changed places to actually increase the challenges he wanted to face in preparation for the D-I game he’s about to experience next. Playing for The Rock allowed him to face tougher competition as the school has independent status and often is linked with top-notch players. The good news about this change of scenery? Well, for one, Nwokeji has fewer tasks to take on during games as he is surrounded by a better overall roster which allows him to focus on scoring rather than rebounding. That has freed him a ton and he can now play both guard and forward positions exploiting his shooting abilities more than he did for Maclay School.
It is a shame, but folks look to be sleeping on Nwokeji more than they should. Once a Top-50 national prospect per 247 Composite rankings, he sits at the verge of the 200-best kids from the 2019 class now. Quite a drop in numbers, yes, but not in attitude nor skills. When asked about who he molds his game after, he doesn’t have one concrete player he focus on constantly or restricts himself to mimic. He adapts. He feels the game and fits it and its needs each time.
“I would say I try to be myself and not really mold my game entirely off of an NBA player. I don’t know how I would describe myself really, I’m still in the phase of figuring out who I am other than just being a wing. Right now I’m just all around,” Nwokeji said.
Not that he doesn’t see himself in one of the most talked-about pros nowadays.
“Players styles I like is Jayson Tatum’s because of our similar body types,” Nwokeji said.
Not bad for a start, right? Well, it gets better when discussing some greats that inspire the kid.
“Favorite players from the past are Michael Jordan and Tracy McGrady. Now it’d be Curry and LeBron,” Nwokeji said.
Bunch of buckets in the group indeed.
Though he may look outweighed on the court sometimes, don’t get fooled by appearances. Nwokeji has a good-enough frame already and though he’s still going to bulk up a little (time will come), he’s got quite the motor and physique to get in the zone and navigate toward the rim. He also showcases good defensive traits and a nose for the spectacular chase-down block. Even against harder competition, the forward is still averaging his good 10+ points and 7+ boards per game without much problem. Looking into his future at Tallahassee with FSU, it doesn’t look too bad with the likes of Patrick Williams (No. 38) and Balsa Koprivica (No.57) joining him as part of the Seminoles group of commits. While the FSU class doesn’t project as a Top-10 one currently, it stays at No. 16 nationally without a 5-star recruit on the way, which could change during the following weeks if they end up getting Precious Achiuwa (No. 13) from Montverde where he’s playing along Koprivica, which could prove crucial in his ultimate college choice, or Trendon Watford (No. 27) although this looks more like a long shot than a sure thing.
The Seminoles have posted winning seasons since 2005 and they’ve made it to the Tournament for two consecutive seasons already, three if we count this one as they are currently 19-5 with a 7-4 ACC record in place as of this writing. Coach Leonard Hamilton has been in town for seventeen seasons already and he’d be pleased to feature Nwokeji in his lineups next season. Beyond that? Doubts arise. We live in the one-and-done era and players are looking to get to the NBA as soon as they can. Not that you can blame them. For Nwokeji, the future is about catching trains as soon as they stop and before they go, though he doesn’t rule out the long trip.
“If the time comes and I get the opportunity to get drafted then I’ll go for it, whether it’s my second or third year in university,” Nwokeji said.
One thing is clear on Nwokeji’s mind.
“While I’m at Florida State I will be grinding to be one of the best players the program has ever had,” Nwokeji said.
He will also be one of the few hailing from Tallahassee to play for the Seminoles (the first since Andrew Rutledge back in 2007, who also played at Maclay School). FSU has seen 12 players drafted by NBA teams during Hamilton’s tenure. Last season, Jonathan Isaac was picked 6th by the Orlando Magic, only trailing Dave Cowens (4th in 1970) in Florida State’s history. Don’t rule out a new leading name in the list, though. There is margin and Zimife Nwokeji is determined to rise above all.