Rick Pitino is using much of the extra time between the conference and NCAA tournaments trying to get inside Chinanu Onuaku’s head, knowing the end is near for his University of Louisville basketball team if Onuaku continues to fall short in potential and desire.

Despite everything Onuaku has going for him physically, he’s rarely been a factor in big games, little more than a spectator in the midst of the action. Six months of coaching not having much of an impact, still looking lost much of the time. Now the big freshman is in for a crash course with the coach.

Chinanu Onuaku somewhere out there.
Chinanu Onuaku somewhere out there.

Pitino told the Courier-Journal’s Jeff Greer that Onuaku hasn’t blocked a shot, gotten an offensive rebound or made a put back in the last two games. He has been quick to remind Onuaku of the deficiencies as well.

“Effort-wise, he’s playing about 60 percent of the game,” said Pitino. “When you’re 6-10, 250 pounds and you’re not a scorer, if you don’t block shots and get offensive rebounds, then what good are you? So I said, ‘If you don’t step up and do this, then we’re going to get knocked out. The onus is on you. I don’t need you to score — I need to get scoring off offensive rebounds, and I need you to block shots.'”

They’ve undoubtedly had this conversation before, but always with a similar outcome. With Mangok Mathiang prone to foul problems, Pitino has little recourse but to start Onuaku in most games, quickly pulling him after  the disappearing acts.

Onuaku doing little more than going through the motions, rarely displaying any emotion. When’s the last time he went to the floor for a loose ball, or emerged from the chaos beneath the basket with the ball? Rarely. Getting lots of minutes, but that’s largely because of the vacuum at the center position this season.

Pitino likes Mathiang’s enthusiasm and effort, he’s bulking up Anas Mahmoud, and says Matz Stockman has real potential.

But Pitino may soon lose patience with Onuaku, and Onuaku may run out of time.

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By Charlie Springer

Charlie Springer is a former Louisville editor and sportswriter, a public affairs consultant, a UofL grad and longtime fan.