Few prospects in the country have made the type of rise from unknown to blue-chip status that Zeke Nnaji has experienced in the last year.
Nnaji, a 6-foot-11, 230-pound senior at Hopkins, went from no high-major scholarship offers a year ago to become a consensus top-40 player and one of the most highly-sought Class of 2019 big men this summer.
Kansas became his latest offer on Wednesday. The blueblood program already offered Nnaji’s D1 Minnesota AAU teammate and five-star Rochester John Marshall senior Matthew Hurt.
“My hard work in the gym is finally paying off,” Nnaji said. “I’ve been working a lot on getting stronger, being more versatile. I definitely think it’s starting to show. I can’t stop and settle. I have to keep building off what I accomplished.”
Nnaji’s plan is to trim his list by October, take officials and commit during the early signing period in November before the high school season. But he has a lot of ground to cover.
A growing number of Big Ten, Big 12, Big East, Pac-12 programs are making the four-star power forward a top priority. Starting this week, Nnaji will begin an unofficial visit tour this month that so far includes seven schools.
On Friday and Saturday, Nnaji has scheduled unofficials to Creighton and Kansas State. About two weeks later, he’ll see Notre Dame, Ohio State, Indiana, Purdue and Illinois from Aug. 24-28. Kansas, Arizona and UCLA are other schools that are likely to get unofficial visits before he picks his finalists in the fall.
“I haven’t visited a lot of schools that offered me,” Nnaji said. “I haven’t really narrowed anything down yet. I’m still pretty open, because a lot of schools have been talking to me. I’m going to start narrowing things down when I take some unofficials. I will see what I like and what fits me. I’ll narrow it down once I get those things out of the way.”
The Gophers made Nnaji their top 2019 target after Hurt. Nnaji’s already been on campus and made an unofficial visit in the spring. He’s familiar with their program, especially with former Hopkins standout Amir Coffey playing at the U. Coffey’s a junior guard this season.
“Sometimes he comes down to some of our practices,” Nnaji said. “He’ll give me a nudge on the shoulder and say, ‘Hey, come to the Gophers.’ It would be cool to play with him. It would be an honor.”
Having friends already on the roster isn’t a huge factor, though. Nnaji’s former Howard Pulley AAU teammates Daniel Oturu, Jarvis Omersa and Gabe Kalscheur are freshmen at Minnesota this season.
“They’re going to be a great team,” Nnaji said about the Gophers. “It’s cool seeing some of the guys who I played with last year be on that team. I think it’s cool. But it doesn’t really matter who is at wherever school. It’s about how I’m going to be used and if I’m able to play right away.”
D1 Minnesota’s team went 41-6 this year, including a runner-up finish at the Adidas Finale in New York and quarterfinals of the Adidas Summer Championships in Orange County. Tyrell Terry and Tyler Wahl already committed to Stanford and Wisconsin, respectively. Hurt is being recruited by similar schools such as Kansas, Minnesota and Indiana.
Nnaji raved about how fun it was to play with D1 Minnesota for the first time this spring and summer. He had great chemistry with his new teammates, but he won’t be influenced by their college choices, either.
“I want to go to a place that values my assets and what I bring to the table,” he said. “I don’t really care if I have friends there or not. It’s not a factor to me making a decision. I’m going to make a decision based on where myself, my coaches and my family think is best for me.”