Chinanu Onuaku (207-C-1996, college: Louisville, agency: MSG) is a 26 year old 207cm center from Upper Marlboro, Maryland playing his 7th professional season and first with Hapoel SP Tel-Aviv (Israel-Winner League). Last season he played with Bnei Ofek Dist Hertzeliya (Israel-Winner League) averaging 16.1ppg, Reb-1 (9.9rpg), 2.8apg, 1.6spg, 1.2bpg, FGP: 56.6%, 3PT: 30.0%, FT: 67.2%. In 2020-2021 he played with KK Zadar (Croatia-Premijer Liga) averaging 12.4ppg, Reb-3 (7.6rpg), 1.9apg, 1.1spg, FGP: 66.3%, 3PT: 28.6%, FT: 59.8%; and in the Adriatic League averaged 12.1ppg, Reb-5 (6.5rpg), 1.9apg, FGP: 61.0%, 3PT: 20.0%, FT: 65.5%. In 2029-2020 he played with DB Promy (Korea-KBL) averaging 14.4ppg, Reb-4 (10.3rpg), 2.5apg, Steals-5 (1.4spg), Blocks-2 (1.5bpg), FGP: 55.7%, 3PT: 27.6%, FT: 66.9%. In his first 3 professional seasons from 2016-2019 he played 7 NBA games with the Houston Rockets after being drafted at #37 in the second round and played 136 G-League games with Rio Grande and Greensboro. He began his basketball career with Riverdale Baptist High School and then played 66 NCAA games with Louisville averaging 9.9ppg, 8.5rpg, 1.6apg, 2.0bpg, FGP: 62.3%, FT: 58.9% in his last year. He spoke to germanhoops.com before a Eurocup game against the Hamburg Towers.
Thanks Chinanu for talking to germanhoops.com. Where are you at the moment and how is basketball life treating you?
I’m in Israel now. I’m still not at where I want to be in my career, but I’m working hard to get there.
Your playing your second season in Israel and first with Hapoel SP Tel-Aviv (Israel-Winner League). What has it been like playing for this organization? What have you learned to appreciate most about the experience so far?
It has been a great experience. I’m playing with some guys that I already knew from last season as well as against guys I have known. I’m still getting adjusted to the game on the court and off the court I have great teammates.
What is it like being in the same city as Maccabi Tel Aviv? Is there a big rivalry among clubs and do you sense that Hapoel has that chip on their shoulder having to play second fiddle to the mighty Maccabi?
I already saw the big rivalry last season when I was on a different team in Israel. It is the biggest rivalry in Israel.
This team is so talented. You must seem comfortable being among so many guys that have played in the NBA? Is there a guy you have become closer to in the short time that you were there?
I haven’t bene here so long yet. But I have been close to Jordan McRae as we had the same agent. I also played together with Xavier Munford.
You have won titles in Croatia and already in Israel. Do you feel like you have that special winning vibe that will infect this team?
I feel like I have always been a winner. Ever since high school and little league, I have won trophies. I reached the Elite 8 in college and won the western conference in the G-League. I was fortunate to always have had good players around me.
You are a very versatile center that can fill the stats sheet. What do you feel do you still need to do to get that Euroleague chance?
I don’t know. I’m versatile like you said. I feel like I’m a Euroleague player now. I feel like I’m still a bit off the radar of teams or some teams have been reluctant to sign me. I just need a chance to show teams my abilities. I feel like I’m the best big man in Europe.
You began the season with Banco di Sardegna Sassari (Italy-Serie A). You put up good stats there. What will you always remember from that experience?
Just being with my teammates and learning a different style of play as well as traveling and seeing new cities.
Last season you played with Bnei Ofek Dist Hertzeliya (Israel-Winner League) averaging 16.1ppg, Reb-1 (9.9rpg), 2.8apg, 1.6spg, 1.2bpg, FGP: 56.6%, 3PT: 30.0%, FT: 67.2%. You beat Maccabi 3 times last time and had solid games and a few great games. Were you never on their radar?
I feel like I was. I was told after we won the cup that there were people in the organization were looking at me. But then over the summer nobody called.
You were teammates with Shawn Dawson. Is he just athletic or crazy athletic? What will you always remember about him?
He isn’t crazy athletic, but is athletic. He had a lot of injuries but he can still get up there.
In 20-21 during Covid a time that was tough for all, you played with KK Zadar (Croatia-Premijer Liga) averaging 12.4ppg, Reb-3 (7.6rpg), 1.9apg, 1.1spg, FGP: 66.3%, 3PT: 28.6%, FT: 59.8%; and in the Adriatic League averaged 12.1ppg, Reb-5 (6.5rpg), 1.9apg, FGP: 61.0%, 3PT: 20.0%, FT: 65.5%. How did your game grow after having only played at home and in Korea before?
I think key was for me being able to learn a new style and understanding how I could be most effective with it using my game.
You played your rookie season with DB Promy (Korea-KBL) averaging 14.4ppg, Reb-4 (10.3rpg), 2.5apg, Steals-5 (1.4spg), Blocks-2 (1.5bpg), FGP: 55.7%, 3PT: 27.6%, FT: 66.9%. What do you remember being your wake up call where you knew that you were very far away from home?
My wake up call was calling my family. It could be 12 am on wed in Korea and 12pm on Tuesday in Houston or Washington DC. That was a big difference.
What was tougher getting 21 rebounds in a game or knowing which Kim was which as there were 7 on the team?
I called them by their nicknames or last names.
After Louisville, you were in the NBA-G-League for 3 years. You played 7 NBA games. If you look back would you have done anything differently? Sometimes guys are young and that work ethic is still missing to help them remain there or get better chances?
I feel like I never got a real chance to prove myself in the NBA. Whenever I did play they were either blowouts or games where I played 2-5 minutes. I feel like I have a great work ethic. I played for John Lucas and you never wanted to play around with him. He always told me to get into the gym and work. Back then the Rockets were really good. I felt like we had many young players that didn’t get a chance.
You Were with the Houston Rockets from 2016-2018 playing 7 games. What do you remember being your wake up call to being a rookie in the NBA? Did rookies have to carry James Harden’s bags?
I never had to carry any bags. I remember having to carry a pink princess bag or bring food to the plane for guys or go to the store. I remember it not being that bad for me as a rookie.
People that don’t know James Harden may think he is eccentric? Can rookie have any kind of relationship with a superstar like that?
It is really hard to have relationships with guys on the team when your mostly in the G-League. James would say hi and talk with you. For me he was just like any other player. The only difference was that he made the most money and buckets.
What was it like being teammates with guys like Clint Capela and Nene Hilario? How did your game benefit from them best?
Those guys were really important in helping me learn the NBA style and be effective.
What will you always remember from checking into your first NBA game against the Phoenix Suns where you had 6 points and 3 assists? Did you have any duels with Tyson Chandler?
I don’t remember facing off against Tyson Chandler. But I do remember making my first NBA bucket. It was off a pick and role with Eric Gordon. He actually had an open shot, but decided to pass me the ball. I am really thankful that he gave me the ball and I made the shot. It was great having my family there to see that moment.
In your third season you were with Dallas and Portland but played only with to the Greensboro Swarm (NBA G League) averaging 14.1ppg, 12.5rpg, 2.9apg, 1.2spg, 1.7bpg, FGP: 55.4%, 3PT: 15.7%, FT: 64.4%. Did you ever feel like you were close to a NBA call up?
I felt like I was close to an NBA call up a couple of times. Teams didn’t want to take a chance on me. I don’t know why.
In the time from 2016-2019 what was the best example for you that the NBA will always be a business first before anything else?
You can be in the G-League one day and then be in the NBA the next and once you get off the plane, get on the next plane right back to the G-League or you may be doing warm ups before a G-League game and then the NBA team calls and you get on a plane to meet your NBA team.
After 3 years in the States you came overseas. Did you lose faith in the NBA? Is it still relevant for you?
I haven’t lost faith in the NBA. The NBA is always my goal. I feel like I’m an NBA player.
You played 2 seasons at the University of Louisville playing a total of 67 NCAA games. Do you sometimes wonder how your career may have gone had you remained longer?
Yes I do wonder. It was a tough time with everything that was going on there. I feel like that if I stayed 1 year more, we probably would have won the NCAA title.
Near the end of your Louisville career you had a double double and win over top team Duke that had guys like Grayson Allen, Marshall Plumlee and Brandon Ingram. Was that one of your most statisfying wins in school?
Beating any top team like North Carolina, Duke or Virginia is always amazing.
In your last year there were 5 future NBA players on the roster including Donovan Mitchell and Damien Lee. Was there one guy were you had an extra special relationship with?
I’m still pretty close to Damien Lee today. Donovan Mitchell was a year younger so I didn’t get so much time to get to know him. But even now I see him sometimes over the summer when we are in the same city working out. Going to Louisville was the best decision in my life.
How did head coach Rick Pitino groom and prepare you best for a professional career?
Coach Pitino treated everyone the same no matter who you were or how good you were. He treated everyone with respect and showed me the way.
Who won a 1-1 in practice you or Raymond Spaulding?
Me of course.
Who is the toughest player that you battled in the NCAA that reached the NBA
Jalil Okafor and Karl Anthony Towns.
Please list your 5 best teammates of all-time?
My Louisville teammates like Quinton Snider, Montrezl Harell, Damien Lee, Anton Gill, Terry Rozier and Trey Lewis.
Please name your personal NBA Mount Rushmore of past or present heads?
Lebron, Shaq, Magic and Jordan
What is your personal opinion of the neverending debate of who is the greatest of all-time Jordan or Lebron?
For me the GOAT is Lebron. But there will always be a debate because they played in different eras.
Did you see the sequel to the classic Coming To America? Shouldn’t they have left it alone?
I wouldn’t say so. Even if the original is a classic, I liked the new one.
Thanks Chinanu for the chat.