City's Nwankwo headed to the Big East
For City senior Aron Nwankwo, basketball was always an afterthought when it came to his college plans.
Dreams of becoming a doctor overshadowed thoughts of playing college basketball, even though the 6-foot-7, 195-pound Nwankwo possessed a Division I-caliber game. Last weekend, however, Nwankwo found out that he wouldn't have to sacrifice one for the other.
In November, Nwankwo earned a full academic scholarship to Pittsburgh, where he'll pursue his pre-med studies. Then last weekend, he received an unexpected bonus from the Panthers basketball coaches, who offered him a walk-on spot on the team.
"Other colleges were recruiting me [for basketball], but I didn't really like them too much," Nwankwo said. "Academics came first, so once I got a scholarship and knew I'd be going there, I decided to try to contact the basketball office. I knew they probably didn't have a scholarship, so I was checking to see if there was any chance of walking on to the team. If there was a chance of that, then it would make [me going there] 100 percent."
Nwankwo first contacted the Pitt staff in December or January. He maintained contact and eventually passed along game tape. City assistant coach Tony Biggers said a Panthers assistant had also seen Nwankwo at an AAU tournament and was impressed.
Last weekend, Nwankwo traveled to Pittsburgh with the Baltimore Stars for the Pitt Jam Fest AAU tournament. After the last game, he made a quick stop at the Petersen Events Center to chat with the Panthers staff.
"When I went up there, I met the head coach and he basically laid everything out to me," Nwankwo said. "It was a pretty quick meeting. Coach [Jamie] Dixon said he would like me for their open [walk-on] spot on the team. I'd be a 4 man. They were real nice to me, telling me all the ways they can help me out with the academic [support] and everything. Going to Pitt and being a part of the team [is exciting]. It was very enthusiastic."
Nwankwo, who also plays lacrosse at City, helped the Knights to back-to-back Class 2A state basketball championships. On a loaded team, Nwankwo's numbers were nothing to write home about, but Biggers said he always made an impact on the defensive end.
"He was probably our second-best defender in the paint," said Biggers, who also started Xavier-bound center Jordan Latham in the Knights' frontcourt. "He rebounds and blocks shots. He brings a lot of energy. ... To my understanding, [the Pitt coaches] like him on the defensive end. He's definitely a hard worker."
Nwankwo will follow in the footsteps of two other Baltimore natives who played at Pitt: Chase Adams (Mount St. Joseph) and Jermaine Dixon. The Panthers have made nine straight NCAA tournament appearances.
"Basically, it's my dream in athletics," Nwankwo said. "To make it to the tournament would be a crazy experience. I've got the best of both worlds at Pitt. It's one of the top pre-med programs in the country and one of the top basketball programs. It doesn't get much better than that. It's kind of a dream come true."