It's not soccer, but Obi Enechionyia still helps Temple net big wins

[caption id="attachment_3237" align="alignright" width="150"] SATURDAY ON ASN: Penn at Temple, 4 p.m. ET (click logo for local listings)[/caption]

At first glance, it appears basketball has always been a family affair for Temple forward Obi Enechionyia as he and his brothers Nnamdi (Saint Peter’s) and Chuchu (VMI) all play Division I hoops.

That assumption would be wrong.

“Few people know this, but I didn’t play basketball until eighth grade,” said Enechionyia, whose father grew up in Nigeria before relocating to the United States. “Up until then, I just wanted to play soccer. I still love soccer.”

That’s true, but the 6-10 junior apparently made the right choice picking basketball over soccer. So far this season he is averaging 21 points, 8.4 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game and shooting 54.5%  from 3-point range (24 of 44) as Temple (5-2) has won four in row Buying me lunch.since dropping two of three to open the year.

Enechionyia, who averaged 11 points and 3.8 rebounds and shot 38.6% from 3 last season — matched his career high with 26 points and made six 3s in Wednesday’s win over Saint Joseph’s. That came after he had huge games in victories over No. 25 Florida State (16 points, eight rebounds, six blocks) and No. 19 West Virginia (22 points, 12 rebounds, five blocks) to win the NIT Season Tip-Off over the Thanksgiving holiday.

“I think Obi, he’s that X-factor if he’s making shots, and so far he’s been able to do that,” Temple coach Fran Dunphy said. “If you can find him enough looks, he keeps you in games.”

Those games against FSU and West Virginia led to Enechionyia being named the NIT Season Tip-Off MVP and Player of the Week. It’s the first time the Owls had back-to-back regular season wins over top 25 opponents.

“I don’t think there’s a better way to get back on track than to win two games against ranked opponents,” Enechionyia said. “To be tournament MVP, that’s what I’ve been working for since I got to Temple. I feel like I haven’t always played up to the level I know I can, but I attribute those two big games to hard work and my teammates finding me in the right spots and my coaches putting me in the right spots.”

Being comfortable with Temple’s coaches played a big factor in Enechionyia signing with the Owls over Miami and Georgia Tech as a four-star recruit out of St. James (Md.) School.

As a freshman, he played nearly 19 minutes per game off the bench for a 26-win team that advanced to the NIT semifinals. Enechionyia ranked ninth in the AAC in blocks (1.3 bpg) and averaged 5.3 points per game but shot only 27.9% from 3. In a season-ending loss to Miami in the NIT semifinals, he had 17 points, eight rebounds and five blocks.

Last year Enechionyia sprained an ankle a few days before the season opener against top-ranked North Carolina and did not play in a loss to the Tar Heels. The injury nagged him until he averaged 15.5 points in the final 12 games of the regular season. He scored 13 points in an AAC quarterfinal win over USF but had a combined nine points on 4-for-20 shooting in losses to UConn in the AAC semifinals and Iowa in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

“I definitely used how last season ended as motivation,” Enechionyia said. “Everybody wants to make it to the NCAA Tournament, but losing like that and with the way I played was not a good feeling. I thought about it a lot in the offseason and about how I want to get back and win in the NCAA Tournament.”

Based on this season’s early results, Temple should be back in the Big Dance this March. Enechionyia has increased his scoring, rebounding and leadership, all needed with the departure of seniors Quenton DeCosey (15.9 ppg last season) and Jaylen Bond (10.3 ppg, 8.5 rpg) and senior guard Josh Brown (Achilles) missing this season’s first six games.

Enechionyia’s improvement as an outside shooter, he claims, is simply the product of some natural ability and long hours spent putting up shots in the gym. He hopes to continue his strong start to the season Saturday on ASN as the Owls play Penn, a Philadelphia Big 5 rival once coached by Dunphy.

“Last year and when I was a freshman, I could score a little bit, but it wasn’t expected as much,” Enechionyia said. “Now after all the hard work I’ve put in on my shooting, I can score different ways and put more points on the board. I like that coach Dunphy puts that trust in me.”

Photo courtesy Joseph V. Labolito/Temple University

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