Standing at a towering height of 7-foot-2, Syracuse Orange center Paschal Chukwu seemingly exists in the earth’s stratosphere, subject to experiencing different weather than the rest of us. He is, after all, the tallest player in Syracuse basketball history but that matters not, at least to Chukwu.
“I mean, I don’t want to let that get to my head,” Chukwu said of being the tallest player in program history. “I just always try to play regardless whether I’m the tallest or shortest player. It’s all about what you do on the court.”
It is what you do on the court that matters, and Chukwu was able to make the full-time return to it in 2017-2018. After playing in only seven games in 2016-2017 for Syracuse due to a detached retina, Chukwu rebounded for Syracuse last season, playing in all 37 contests for Jim Boeheim. Chukwu’s role on the team only grew in importance as the season wore on as his backup at the position, Bourama Sidibe, was plagued with knee tendinitis throughout.
The role of center in the 2-3 zone is arguably the most important as it is — the center has a visual of the entire defense whereas the forward and guards in the zone do not. The need to communicate in the zone is imperative on the center, so with only one true healthy big man on the roster last season, the importance of both the position and Chukwu grew.
Chukwu responded by finishing second in the ACC in blocked shots, sending back 2.5 shots per game for 91 total blocks on the season. He also finished 13th in the conference in rebounds, hauling in 6.8 per game for 252 boards on the year.
After spending his summer in Syracuse (and a brief vacation in Nantucket!) working out and taking classes, Chukwu noted that he’s looking to dominate on the defensive end this year while also improving on the other end to boot.
“Be more dominant defensively,” Chukwu said of his goal this year. “(I want) to be more efficient offensive wise and definitely (want to) be more dominant defensively.”
As Chukwu essentially completed his first full season at Syracuse last year, he was able to get more in-game reps and focus on basketball this summer without having to worry about his health. When asked which players made the most significant improvement from the previous year, Jim Boeheim mentioned Chukwu first and noted that the 7-foot-2 big man bulked up over the summer.
His timing looked much improved in the Orange vs. White scrimmage as he was returning shots to sender and scoring on the offensive end, too. Chukwu said he’d been working with Syracuse assistant Allen Griffin on his offensive game this summer and he already looked much improved.
“Just getting better, work(ed) a little bit on form and on my game,” Chukwu said. “Me and coach Griff did a lot of shooting.”
If the hard work pays dividends, look for Chukwu to have more performances like the one he had against Eastern Michigan last season.
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