Just a couple of hours prior to Wednesday's deadline, starting center Chinanu Onuaku declared his intention to enter the NBA draft, forgoing his remaining two years of eligibility at Louisville. So what does this mean for Nanu and Coach P's squad? For Nanu, his decision to go pro is not a bad one. Oh, but Jason, he isn't ready to play in the NBA and what is he going to do if he doesn't make it playing professionally? He will have nothing to fall back on! He needed to stay in school! Stop it. Do you really think that by staying in school, playing and practicing against amateurs everyday and dividing his time between refining his game and writing papers would be more beneficial to his development than spending all of his time practicing and only against other professionals? I didn't think so. Well Jason, that's all fine and dandy, but what if the NBA doesn't work out for him? He still has no degree to fall back on. That's true. But you know what he does have to fall back on? A whole lot of money. Money that he risks every time he steps on the court as an amateur. With one injury, it could be all gone. That money will not always be there. School will be, though. If the NBA doesn't work out and he does need a degree, he can always come back for that.
As far as his draft stock is concerned, he is in a fine place. No, it's not ideal, but it isn't a bad spot to be in by any means. Considered to be a late first or early second round pick before the draft combine in Chicago, his stock has since shot up due to his terrific showing for NBA scouts and executives, shining brightest with his defense. What they saw was a kid having two years of college ball experience playing for an outstanding defensive coach with the age of a one-and-done - 19. Also, they see a 6'10" 245 pound beast of a specimen with tons of room to grow into his frame and loads of potential. He is a project for NBA coaches, no doubt, but if history has taught us anything, NBA teams love young project centers that ooze potential. He might not crack the lottery, but don't expect him to fall out of the first round. Some team will take a chance on him and select him in the first round, guaranteeing his contract.
For the Cards, the loss a bad one, but not insurmountable by any means. With team captain and fellow big man Mangok Mathiang returning to the court following the injury that cost him the majority of his junior season, that blow is softened greatly. We will also see increased roles for the "other" big men that Onuaku overshadowed in their recruiting class - Norwegian Matz Stockman and Egyptian Anas Mahmoud. Neither will be on Nanu's level immediately, but don't for a second think they can't soon put up bigger numbers than he did. It became a painstaking story that seemed to repeat itself several times in his two seasons: to see Nanu get into foul trouble very quickly and have to sit on the bench for 12 or 15 minutes to close the first half and proceed to foul out in the second half down the stretch when the team needed him most. A lot of that has to do with his relative immaturity at times, an issue that we really don't see out of Matz and Anas. The void that Nanu leaves on the court won't easily be filled, but at least Coach Pitino has already begun strategizing for that in the case of Onuaku foul trouble, and he has plenty of tools to fill it by committee.
Obviously as a fan of the program, you'd rather see him stay, but he did what was in his best interest and took an opportunity that he may never see again. With him, the Cards would've been a heavy favorite to reach the Final Four. Without him though, Louisville Basketball is still going to be a championship contender. Retaining the likes of Ray Spalding, Donovan Mitchell, Deng Adel, Quentin Snider and Mangok Mathiang while also adding McDonalds All American VJ King to the mix, the Cards will be just fine. Take a breath Card Nation, the team is still very well prepared to make a deep postseason run.
You can follow Jason Wyrick on Twitter @Steagles1.