A "Beast" Makes Mark In Summer League

Arinze Onuaku fights for rebound position against Portland in Las Vegas Summer League.

In reserving a summer league roster spot for Arinze Onuaku, the Suns weren’t taking a risk on the unknown. General Manager Ryan McDonough had already seen him before.

More importantly, McDonough liked what he saw. “

When I was in Boston working for the Celtics, we needed a big and we brought him in for a workout right before Christmas,” McDonough said. “He did a very good job. He almost made the team… he was very impressive in the workout and in the D-League season.”

McDonough was intrigued enough to recall Onuaku’s availability when it came time to assemble Phoenix’s summer league team. If his recollection of the former Syracuse big man had dimmed at all, it was quickly brought into sharp focus after a stellar debut in Saturday’s 82-69 win over Portland.

Onuaku’s line: 17 minutes, seven points, 11 rebounds.

When Suns owner Robert Sarver approached McDonough to learn more about Onuaku, McDonough’s first words were decidedly candid.

“He’s a beast,” McDonough told Sarver.

Several Suns teammates found that out first-hand during Phoenix’s minicamp at US Airways Center before leaving for Las Vegas.

“We saw it in practice. In fact a couple of the guys said (something when) they got hit by him,” Hornacek said. “One of the Morris brothers I think may have said, ‘that guy hit me in the chest. It hurt.’ He’s a big strong kid and he’s doing a nice job for us getting those boards.”

Onuaku’s victims are now summer league opponents, who quickly realized how difficult it was to move, budge, or shift his 6-9, 276-pound frame. On one play, he forced his way inside of his opponent, placing himself perfectly for an offensive rebound off a PJ Tucker miss. Onuaku kept the ball high, going straight up for a putback, plus the foul.

Similar hustle set up three more offensive rebounds, hustle that became a staple when Onuaku averaged 9.5 rebounds per game in the D-League last season.

“That’s what I do, man,” Onuaku said after the game. “I’m a defensive player. I’m gonna rebound and I can finish around the rim. I’m just going to bring that to this team, be that physical presence down low.”

Now, Onuaku hopes his game has progressed to the point where he can muscle his way into the position he craves the most: an NBA roster spot.

“Every day I’ve just been trying to get better, work on my body, work on my game,” he said. “They say when you work hard, things are going to start to pan out. It’s been a great summer for me so far, just trying to go off that.”

His personal progress as a player can only help. McDonough said Onuaku has become more than a one-dimensional glass-eater, an important quality for a player who idolized the likes of Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett growing up.

“I’ve been a fan of his game for a long time,” the rookie GM said. “I think he has developed offensively. He’s always been a big strong guy. He’s always had a knack for rebounding and being physical. Recently he started to develop some touch around the basket. He’s finishing better. He gets so many offensive rebounds, he’s able to put those back in the basket.”

Onuaku admitted the long journey to this point has been trying, especially after not getting picked up this past spring, despite his impressive play in the D-Leauge. Now, against NBA-quality competition and hopefuls like himself, Onuaku is ready to cash in on this latest opportunity.

“I’ve been feeling like I belong (in the NBA) for a long time,” he said. “Being an All-Star in the D-League and not getting the call up, it was a frustrating year. But I’m just going to keep pushing and see what happens.”