Interview conducted by Chris Monter
Elvis Nnaji, a 6-foot-8 junior forward from Hopkins (MN) High, has a strong spring with the D1 Minnesota AAU program.
Nnaji averaged 10.8 points per game this past season, scoring in double figures in eight of 15 games, including a season-best 20 versus Eden Prairie.
GopherHole caught up with Nnaji after a recent D1 Minnesota’s practice to learn more about his recruitment and upcoming senior season.
GopherHole: I know that you guys got off to a little bit of a slow start in Chicago, but played the next two weekends in Kansas City and Minneapolis. Do you see that chemistry building the last couple of tournaments?
Elvis Nnaji: Definitely. We were missing a few pieces, like Tamin (Lipsey) in the first tournament, but other than that, we just have to get a feel for each other. It is our first time playing together. We have to get a little team bonding in as well. We knew each other, but outside of that, we never played together, so once we got our chemistry right, we were able to move the ball, get better shots and look out for each other and then we were able to get things going.
GopherHole: How about your own individual play? How pleased are you with how well you have done so far this spring?
Elvis Nnaji: Definitely feel better the way I’ve improved, especially from the first game to the last two, because the first game, I was a little bit timid. I was rushing myself a little bit. Same thing I was doing last year, a little bit, but I started realizing my potential and everything. Working on the little things that most people don’t work on in AAU, running the floor, boxing out, rebounding, getting my teammates better, getting better shots for them as well and creating space for myself to score.
GopherHole: How important is that confidence in terms of feeling confident and playing better on the floor? How big is that for you
Elvis Nnaji: Confidence is key, because no matter how hard you work out on the court and during practice, if you don’t have the confidence to do the moves or finish those moves in a real game, then you’re not going to be able to do it, but when you have the confidence to be able to do it, you can dominate anybody, no matter how big they are.
GopherHole: How about your junior season at Hopkins? I know that it was a little bit disappointing the way things ended with COVID. How tough was that because I know that Hopkins year in and year out is always going to be one of the best teams in the state? How tough was it to not have a chance to play in the postseason?
Elvis Nnaji: It was definitely tough, because I really wanted to see what our team could do and how much we improved from the beginning of the season. However, it is also a beneficial thing for me, the time it gave me to be able to work on my craft, while everybody else was in their state tournaments. I was able to work out. Be in the gym every day that led up to this season.
GopherHole: What things are you really working on to continue yourself as a player?
Elvis Nnaji: My ballhandling. Being able to spread it out to the three-point line, but at the same time, keeping it simple. Working on my post work. Making my foot work better every day. Working on my outside shot. My court vision. My IQ as well.
GopherHole: You are starting to hear from some colleges. What schools are you hearing from the most right now?
Elvis Nnaji: It’s a mixture, outside of Arizona, Marquette and Minnesota, I’ve pretty much talked to Iowa, Arkansas, and Tennessee. Schools like that.
GopherHole: What offers do you have right now? I know that some of it has changed because some of the coaches who had talked to you before, those coaches aren’t there and now you are trying to build relationships with the new staffs.
Elvis Nnaji: It is still those three, Marquette, Arizona and Minnesota, but after the coaches leaving, I’m still waiting awhile to see how things play out.
GopherHole: Is that kind of tough because you had kind of built a relationship with some of these coaches for maybe a year or maybe even longer and now some of those coaches aren’t there.
Elvis Nnaji: It is definitely tough. However, as long as I’m able to play my game, wherever I go to and they have whatever they need for me to be a successful player, that’s all I need.
GopherHole: I mentioned to you earlier about your cousin committing to Arizona? Is that kind of cool to see and her younger sister has gotten offered by Arizona and I think she is only in eighth grade. Is that cool to watch them and Zeke was drafted in the first round of the NBA Draft to how basketball has become a big part of your guy’s family?
Elvis Nnaji: Yes. It is definitely good to see. Not surprised. They have all worked for it. Definitely proud because everything they have got, they worked for, especially Zeke, where he is at right now. Their siblings are able to look up to him and see where he has gotten, so they are motivation for me as well, to get better every day.
GopherHole: Does that push you even a little harder because you can see what they can do and you want to try to do some of the same things that they are doing?
Elvis Nnaji: Yes, definitely. It is motivation. It is competition at the same time. Try to get as far as Zeke or farther than Zeke, but at the same time, I’m looking up to him and everything to get better as well.