Uche on Ike: ‘He’s a tough guy — the secret is out now’
LARAMIE -- Uche Nsonwu-Amadi has heard the comparisons.
A clip sent to him last year on Twitter just solidified it.
It didn't take long for Wyoming's former big man to realize that the Pokes' current paint protector did in fact posses plenty of similarities. It wasn't until Nsonwu actually met Graham Ike, though, he found out the two also share Nigerian heritage and a common mindset when it comes to the game of basketball.
"He's a tough guy," Nsonwu said. "The secret is out now."
Nsonwu, who played for the Cowboys from 2000-03, averaged 12 points and 8.7 rebounds per game. At first thought, maybe the two were compared because of their similar builds. Ike is 6-foot-9, 252 pounds while Nsonwu had him by an inch and eight pounds during his playing days.
That wasn't the only reason.
Nsonwu, who now makes his home in the Phoenix area, found that out in late November when the Cowboys were in town to play Grand Canyon.
"I thought, 'let me see, no one wants to play in the post anymore,'" Nsonwu said with a laugh. "After I hung out with him, watched him play and practice, his demeanor is like mine -- he just wants to do his thing around the basket.
"He's so young and has his whole future ahead of him. He's coachable. He's out there working hard. The conversations we've had are all about trying to get better. Most kids in 2021 aren't mature the way he is. He knows his job and is bent on doing it. That's a great thing."
That night, Ike netted 13 points and six rebounds in the 68-61 victory over the Antelopes. He is averaging 20.8 points and nine boards a night. Ike was named the Mountain West Player of the Week after scoring a career-high 35 points in a win over Denver and adding 18 more against McNeese State.
The two new friends will hook up once again Wednesday night when Wyoming travels to Tucson to take on 8th-ranked Arizona.
A win over the Wildcats, Nsonwu said, would be "poetic justice."
In his lone trip to the NCAA Tournament back in 2002, Nsonwu and the Cowboys fell to Arizona 68-60 in the second round. The Wildcats connected on 20-of-28 free throws that night in Albuquerque. Wyoming, just 4-of-7.
"It's going to mean something to all of us," he said of that team which featured future UW Hall of Fame members Marcus Bailey and Josh Davis. "We are all looking forward to it. Regardless of the outcome, though, this team is a great team no matter what happens. The future is wonderful.
"A win would give us a nice assist though."
Nsonwu said he has given a few words of advice to Ike.
For one, be ready for the attention -- on and off the court.
Nsonwu, who played 12 years of professional basketball overseas, said the Aurora, Colo., product has a future at the next level. Playing to his potential and leading his team into the win column, Nsonwu added, will go a long way in determining how far.
"I don't think anyone around the country can mess with him one on one," he said, including Arizona big men Christian Koloko and Azuolas Tubelis, who both hover around 7-foot tall. "Teams will send different looks. He has to be able to rise up. The game goes fast, you have to be able to deal with it in seconds and make the right reads."
Secondly, make opponents pay the price.
"I told him to walk into the gym and demand a double team," Nsonwu continued. "Punish the team you're playing against. If they don't double you, destroy them."
Wyoming is currently 8-0 and sitting No. 12 in the NCAA's recently released NET rankings. Ike, Nsonwu said, has plenty to do with that, but added he likes what Jeff Linder is building in Laramie.
He joked and said "you can't go to the Kentucky Derby with donkeys."
That's why Nsonwu likes the Pokes chances in Tucson. He's also looking forward to getting in the ear of No. 33 in person once again.
"Even though I was an older college student, it was a business for me," he said. "It was business in the sense that I wanted to do my job and was serious about it. I can see that in him. Our game is similar, that is unmistakable, but the attitude that comes with it is a huge similarity.
"It's the biggest thing, actually. That will take you places."
Tip time is set for 8 p.m. inside the McKale Center. The game can be seen on Pac 12 Network.
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