Hendrik Gruhn is the youth head coach of the NBBL (U-19) youth team of the Young Rasta Dragons and Pro B coach. He found experience coaching the Young Rasta Dragons U-12 and U14 teams. Last season he by chance became head coach of the Vechta Regionalliga team and helped them win the title and move to the Pro B as well as led the U-19 team to the NBBL final. He gave the whole truth about his ex player Justin Onyejiaka Chukuwueme (190-SG-2004).
Thanks Hendrik for talking to germahoops.com The Fraport Skyliners announced the signing of Justin Onyejiaka Chukuwueme. How disappointed are you that he has left Vechta?
Of course it is disappointing when a huge talent like Justin leaves, because one always wants to work as long as possible with talented players. But on the other hand it is a great opportunity for him to continue his career with the Fraport Skyliners. We need to accept it. I’m very happy for him. Perhaps we will see each other again in the playoffs.
Did his leaving surprise you considering how he helped Vechta reach the NBBL final 4 and the second team move up to the Regionalliga. Vechta has been on the rise in youth development in the last few years while the Fraport Skyliners have been a bit stagnant in the last few years after the departure of Isaac Bonga.
It didn’t surprise me. Frankfurt may not be the way it once was with guys like Voigtmann, Barthel and Bonga, but it is still a very good place for young players to play and develop. I think it was very beneficial for him to go there. I think also that he wanted a change in scenery. I feel it is more that he was for Frankfurt and less against Vechta.
Do you believe he saw a better future with the Fraport Skyliners? Do you think that the easyCredit BBL was a bigger attraction than the Pro A?
Yes that can be. Young guys today always want to get as quickly to the BBL as possible. The appeal to play BBL and Pro B was greater than Pro A and Pro B. If he does well in the Pro B and NBBL, his way to the BBL could be quicker going this route.
Did you talk with Justin about his decision? Did he seek advice from you?
Not really. He never asked me. We knew that he might go. We were Ok with it. I think it was a personal decision for him that he made with his family. Making a decision like that has to do with growing up. I had no influence on him.
Let’s talk about his game. He is a 190cm shooting guard. If you had to compare him to an NBA player and another German veteran who would you pick?
I think the best German comparison would be Maodo lo. Both are shifty and very mobile on offense. Justin is bigger and more athletic than Maodo. Justin’s shooting and ball handling is similar to Lo. If I had to compare his game to a NBA/Euroleague player then the best comparison would be Wade Baldwin. Both have long arms and when both are in the flow are very hard to stop.
Some could see him as the next Len Schoorman. Schoorman was loaned to the Hamburg Towers. Len was already a JBBL player when he was in Frankfurt. Do you feel like the comparison is unfair?
You can’t compare them Len is 20 and Justin 18. Two years is a huge difference. Both are similar in their game. I have to be honest, I was hoping that Len could help him in practice with things, but that won’t happen this season.
Talk a little about his strengths. In the Skyliners press release he is described as an allrounder that is athletic, team orientated and can create his shot for himself and others. How else would you describe his game?
He is an allrounder. I feel that he is the best German player for his age. He is a scorer that can finish at the rim, has a pull up and is overall a good shooter. When the opponent keys in on him, then he is able to find his teammates. His court vision is very good for his age. He can score 30-35 points. That’s his game.
His three point percentages are still down, but normal for a young player. How did you see his shooting development in the last year?
We worked together a lot on his shot during the lock down. We worked more than a year together during the lock down. I think that at the moment his biggest weakness has nothing to do with his mechanics, but moreover it’s his shot selection. Last season often when he hit 2 or 3 shots in a row, he would follow with wild step back shots. I’m sure Klaus Perwas will make sure his shot selection gets better.
Talk a bit about his defense. He is very athletic. How do you see him progressing as a defender with the Fraport Skyliners. Where do you see him s a defender at the moment?
Due to his length, athleticism and Physicality, he can defend many positions. But he still needs to work on his defense. His athleticism and long arms also makes him a threat to block shots. The biggest thing on defense is that he still needs to be prepared to get his hands dirty. He has shown signs, but it isn’t consistent yet. If he can get his defense to the same level as his offense, then he could have a great career and go far.
What kind of a relationship did you have with him and on what area of his game did you help him most with the last years?
Justin and I had a very good relationship. We talked a lot during the lock down. We built a very good relationship over the years. I know him since he is 13. I first coached him when he played with the U-14 team. I saw him grow the last years. It was tough last season, because he was injured and couldn’t always find his rhythm. We worked a lot on the shot, but also on other things. We also worked on his passing and pull up jumper. I believe I had a big influence on that.
Please tell me your fondest moment with him on the court?
It was the first JBBL season in 2019. We played against Metropol. I was an assistant coach that season, but for that game had to jump in as head coach. He hit almost 30 points and carried the team to the win. Another on court fond memory was when he scored 49 points against Paderborn last season. He was in the zone against Paderborn.
Give a nice example that you will never forget with him off the court that shows the kind of character that he has?
I remember during the lock down, we were always talking about to what player we could compare his game to. It took a while, but we finally came up with Wade Baldwin. We then looked at many of his videos online and began taking parts of his game and incorporating them into his game. He is more an introverted guy and isn’t always telling so many jokes, but we got a lot warmer and more comfortable with each other during this time.
Thanks Hendrik for the chat.