The 6-foot-9 freshman big man made his debut in the 91-51 opening day beatdown of Mount St. Mary’s, where he played nine minutes, collecting four rebounds and dishing out one block.
Entering this season, with a thin frontcourt, there was some hope that first game would be the first of many throughout the year.
With Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree initially off the roster due to the injuries he had sustained throughout his career, Eric Dixon was the lone true big man. Frontcourt size and rebounding was at a premium, so maybe Njoku would get some minutes off the bench.
Instead, it turned out being a developmental year for Njoku and his other classmates behind the scenes — at least until Jordan Longino carved out a role for himself late in the season.
Njoku got his first collegiate basket a week after the Mount St. Mary’s game, scoring two points and three boards through four minutes of play in a lopsided win over Howard.
He ended up playing in just nine games (27 minutes) this season, scoring a combined six points on 3-of-6 shooting, with 14 rebounds, one steal and a block.
While his limited action was in part due to Njoku needing to wait his turn, he also faced various setbacks that hampered his freshman season.
There were various off-court obstacles. Before the season started, a concussion forced him to miss approximately a month of action. He also dealt with “hydration issues.” Njoku also missed some time due to a non-COVID illness and the death of a close family member.
His final regular season appearance was against Butler on Jan. 16, where he made both of his shots and scored four points and grabbed two rebounds. He also got to make a couple of cameos in NCAA Tournament games against Delaware and Kansas.
At Jay Wright’s retirement and Kyle Neptune’s official introductory press conferences, Njoku was spotted with a bandage on his hand-wrist area.
Big men usually take longer to develop, and while he’s got the athleticism and the build to be a solid contributor, those unfortunate setbacks hindered him from gaining momentum or hitting the ground running by the time the season started.
Despite the challenges that Njoku faced away from the game this season, he’s remained upbeat and well in tune with his role and the program.
On the bright side, the various setbacks are only setting the stage for a glorious comeback.
Hopefully, Njoku will be able to recover quickly from whatever the hand or wrist injury is and he’ll be healthy for the offseason and the start of next season, so he can show off what he can do and what he’s learned from this season’s program vets.
Eric Dixon will definitely reprise his role in the starting five, but maybe Njoku can be a dependable piece off the bench and provide some good frontcourt minutes off the bench as a sophomore next year.