Obi Enechionyia (above) is trying to put together a consistent senior season after an up-and-down junior year. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
(Ed. Note: This article is part of our 2017-18 season coverage, which will run for the six weeks preceding the first official games of the year on Nov. 10. To access all of our high school and college preview content for this season, click here.)
On the surface, Obi Enechionyia’s junior season statistics spell out a pretty solid year.
The 6-foot-10, 220-pound Temple forward was second on the Owls in scoring (13.1) and tops in rebounding (5.8 ppg) and blocks (1.5 bpg), hitting 40 percent of his shots overall and 38.5 percent from 3-point range.
But, of course, the numbers don’t tell the whole story.
Enechionyia began the 2015-16 season as hot as it gets, averaging 21 points and 8.4 rebounds while hitting 54.5 percent of his 3-point attempts over Temple’s first seven games. In back-to-back wins over top-25 opponents Florida State and West Virginia, the sharpshooting big man out of the St. James School (Md.) totaled 38 points, hit seven of his 10 3s, grabbed 20 rebounds and picked up 11 blocks. He was named MVP of the NIT Season Tip-Off for his efforts.
On Madison Square Garden’s famed court, Enechionyia played like he belonged.
It seemed like the realization of a talent he’d flashed as a sophomore, when he averaged 11.0 ppg and 3.8 rpg on an Owls squad that won 20 games and made it to the NCAA tournament. The following year, on a team desperate for someone to step up and replace the graduated Quenton DeCosey as its go-to scorer, with starting point guard Josh Brown sidelined by an Achilles injury, Enechionyia at first heeded the call.
Then came game No. 8, when Enechionyia shot 5-of-17, including 0-for-6 from 3-point range, though Temple overcame that to advance to 6-2 on the season. But including that game and the next 13, Enechionyia saw his scoring average cut in half (10.1 ppg), hitting 29 percent of his triples.
He recovered somewhat, hitting 39 percent of his 3-pointers to close out the season, but averaged just 11.8 ppg and hit only 61 percent of his foul shots in those last 11 games. As a team, Temple’s season mirrored Enechionyia’s, as the Owls cooled off from their hot start to finish 16-16 overall, with a 7-11 mark in American Athletic Conference play.
In trying to solve whatever issue developed last year, Obi Enechionyia’s solution is just to block it out. For him, there’s just no sense worrying about whether or not the ball is going to drop through the hoop.
“[I] try not to think about the missed shots, focus on what I can control, which is make sure my technique is right and make sure I’m doing the right things that are going to help me get back into a groove,” he said at an Owls practice last week. “[The] biggest thing is just not letting it get to my head, the makes or the misses.”’
A relatively quiet, introspective young man, Enechionyia doesn’t have quite the same boastful confidence of someone like former Owls star Khalif Wyatt (2009-13), who poured in more than 1,500 points in just three years after playing sparingly as a freshman.
When the spotlight swung over to Enechionyia last year, thanks to his hot start and a very young lineup around him, he wasn’t quite ready to handle its full wattage all at once. Temple coach Fran Dunphy has a system designed around having numerous options, not one singular star, and Enechionyia fit better into that formula than he did into the one they were dealing with.
“I don’t know that that’s Obi’s nature...I think he’s dependent on others,” Dunphy said. “Teams started to guard him a little differently so he had to make that adjustment...play without the basketball, come off the screens, post up a little bit.”
This year, Brown is back, almost fully recovered from the Achilles injury that forced him to take a redshirt last year, and he’ll be running the Temple offense. Last year’s leading scorer, Shizz Alston Jr., is only a junior. Sophomores Quinton Rose (9.7 ppg) and Alani Moore II (6.5 ppg) are back as veteran guards after seeing plenty of minutes in their rookie seasons.
In addition, a four-man freshman group led by guard Nate Pierre-Louis (Roselle Catholic, N.J.) and wing DeVondre ‘Dre’ Perry (Poly, Md.) should bring even more scoring punch to the perimeter.
Enechionyia won’t have to take 17 shots in a game anymore, and he’s not one to mind.
“That’s definitely going to help, going to take the pressure off not only myself but Shizz, Q, a lot of other guys,” Enechionyia said. “When it comes to (depth), yeah it definitely takes the pressure off a little bit.”
The pressure that isn’t gone is the one to get back to the NCAA Tournament, as well as the one to prove he’s good enough to play in the NBA.
Enechionyia took advantage of relatively new NBA draft rules that allowed him to declare and work out for an NBA team without NCAA penalty, getting a workout from the Boston Celtics in May shortly before withdrawing his name from the draft and returning to school for his senior year.
“I’m glad I did it, made the decision to come back -- glad I did that as well,” he said. “(They) just re-iterating the things that I had heard from a lot of other people in terms of being more versatile, being less one-dimensional, being able to do things other than shooting 3s. There was nothing new, just was good to hear the NBA guys tell me it.”
Enechionyia said he spent the offseason keeping his shot sharp, while also working to improve his play-making ability off the dribble so opponents can’t just run him off the arc.
And of course, not thinking about what happens if the shots stop falling.
“I know who I am as a shooter, as a player, so I can stay confident,” he said. “And whatever slump I get into -- I think this year is going to be a lot better in terms of that, [I’ll] definitely be more confident if I do go into that, [and it] definitely won’t last as long.”