By Jerome Taylor (@ThatGuy_Rome)
When it was time to extend Kachi Nzeh a scholarship, Xavier’s head coach Sean Miller got right to the point.
“He was like, ‘Listen, I’ve seen you once, my assistants have said great things about you, and I’ve had guys similar to you, and I’m willing to offer you because I believe in you, and I believe that you’re the guy for us,” Nzeh said.
Xavier assistant coach Dave Miller saw Nzeh first at Blair Academy during the first June high school live period. A week later, the Xavier head coach came to Hun School and extended the offer to Nzeh on June 25 after seeing him in person for the first time.
Nzeh’s decision to commit to the Musketeers was not as straightforward.
The former junior Olympic gold medal 400-meter runner was torn when it was time to make the most significant decision of his basketball career — a career that only began during his sophomore year when he made the switch from track to hoops.
With 20 Division I offers to choose from, Nzeh cut down his college list to Xavier, Saint Louis, Iowa and VCU on Aug. 22. He visited Saint Louis a few days later and took his official visit to Xavier’s campus in Cincinnati on Sept. 2.
Nzeh took his time, but the latter won him over. The 6-foot-8 forward announced his commitment to Xavier last Thursday.
George School's Kachi Nzeh announced his commitment to Xavier last Thursday. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
“Both of the visits were amazing. That’s why I struggled with the decision because I felt like neither school had a flaw,” Nzeh said. “They all checked every box, the coaching staff was great. …They’ve all sent guys to the NBA, so it really came down to nitpicking. It really came down to the staff, who I felt would challenge me most.”
Nzeh joins the nation's 10th-ranked 2023 recruiting class as Sean Miller begins to build a foundation for his second stint at the helm of Xavier.
He previously led the Musketeers to an Elite Eight and Sweet 16 while at the head of the program from 2004-2009 before coaching at Arizona, where he went 302-109, making the Elite Eight three times and Sweet 16 twice.
Last year, the Musketeers won the NIT tournament, so Miller will be tasked with returning Xavier to the more prestigious tournament in March.
In addition to Miller's honesty and desire to have Nzeh, he also had experience and success with players of a similar archetype. Nzeh was sold when Miller and his staff laid out the statistical improvement players like Aaron Gordon and other athletic forwards made while being coached by Miller.
“The thing that stuck out to me was coach Sean Miller and what he’s done with guys at my position,” Nzeh said. “That was the main thing. He’s had a lot of success with versatile bigs like me.”
Nzeh, whose full name is Onyekachi Nzeh, is the son of two Nigerian immigrants who emphasized education. In Igbo, Onyekachi means ‘Who is greater than God,’ and Nzeh means ‘King’.
“[My name] makes me feel like I have a greater purpose like I was born to succeed, and I believe I’m going that way,” Nzeh said. “With names like that, we hold things on our shoulders and push through.”
Nzeh’s high school career began with college coaches coveting his services on the track. After winning the 400 at the junior Olympics in eighth grade, he was a standout runner as a 6-5 freshman at Upper Darby. A growth spurt caused persistent injuries that turned his athletic focus elsewhere.
His mom, who is an NBA fan, pushed him into hoops as a sophomore at Upper Darby, where he played his first season of organized basketball. He arrived at George School a year later in 2020-21 and re-classified to the Class of 2023 with greater basketball ambitions.
The initial goal was to find a way to pay for college, taking the burden off his hard-working parents.
“My mom works two to three jobs at a time. My dad is working multiple doubles with his one job … I felt like the world was unfair, like they’ve never gotten a break, so I want to help them with that and be happy that they came to America,” Nzeh said.
“When I started playing basketball, they were iffy about it. They were really big on education because that’s all they knew. They didn’t really know that you could make it through sports, but they’ve been able to see what can come from sports, and they’re proud of me.”
George School's Kachi Nzeh takes the ball to the hoop. (Photo: Owen McCue/CoBL)
Despite the relatively late start to basketball, Nzeh has rounded out his game during three years at George School.
He developed into an energetic, versatile defender who can effectively defend the paint and the perimeter, not to mention having the ability to run the floor and finish through traffic. He can also step outside and hit shots in the midrange and beyond 3-point range, or score from the low block.
George School head coach Ben Luber did not foresee the raw forward who arrived with the Cougars three seasons ago leaving as a high-major commit.
“I’m very surprised by how quickly he took off cause I’ve never seen someone cover that much ground in the 15 years I’ve been coaching,” Luber said. “That’s why I’m so excited for him to go to Xavier in the Big East with all the resources that they have.”
“It’s been a beautiful thing to watch,” he added. “It’s been a process. It’s been a long journey to get to this point. A lot of early mornings. A lot of film. A lot of looking Kachi in the eyes and telling him the truth and him being coachable, being naturally who he is, being the kid his parents did a great job of raising. He’s respectful. He’s hard working, he’s humble. He’s also 6-9 with a 7-6 wingspan.”
Now Nzeh is ready to see how far he can go with basketball.
“With every sport I’ve gone into, I’ve always wanted to reach the end. I honestly just wanted to play basketball to get into school for free to help my parents out,” Nzeh said. “But once I started to realize that coaches thought I was special, I thought alright [Division 1 basketball] could be a possibility.”
“I never really expected to be as good as I am now,” he added. “Of course I was going to put the work in. I’ve never been a lazy kid, so I knew I was going to be good but I was not expecting to reach this level.”
On top of having his immediate family with him on his trip to Xavier, Nzeh asked Luber, who is not only his head coach but also someone Nzeh considers family, to accompany him on the visit.
During Nzeh’s time at George School, early-morning workouts with Luber have become routine. This past summer they modeled Nzeh’s workout regime after the Kobe Bryant workout plan.
Luber admits to being protective of Nzeh, as he was one of the first kids that Luber coached when he got to George School in 2019. He’s had the closest look at Nzeh’s progression.
“Well, he was an Olympic-level track runner, so he knew how to run before I met him. … Running and the fundamentals for someone who’s that size and growing, the coordination is sometimes a challenge,” Luber said. “He had coordination, and I knew he had work ethic. … There’s no secret recipe. The consistency over time, it had a compound effect. He’s still a work in progress, but he’s just come so far because of his work ethic.”
While Luber wants Nzeh to excel on the basketball court at Xavier, more importantly, he wants Nzeh to stay the same person. The same person who won him over as a coach with his work ethic and the same person whose exceptional character is displayed whenever he hangs out with Luber’s children.
“Kachi is really a rare breed as a human being in all his habits and how he articulates things,” Luber said. “He looks you in the eye, shows up on time, doesn’t make excuses. He’s a great teammate, a good team player, all the things it takes to win a championship.”
For Nzeh, he’s ready for the next chapter of his and Xavier’s basketball journey.
“Coach Sean said that everyone has to earn their minutes and time, but all freshmen do have an opportunity to start and play,” Nzeh said. “So I want to just go there, be the best player I can be and hopefully help the team succeed and be part of a winning culture.”