After unlikely college journey, Northeastern grad turns pro to pursue his basketball dream

ROB ROSE
717-505-5418/@robrosesports
Northeastern High graduate Kobi Nwandu, right, dribbles past a defender while playing for Niagara University. Nwandu recently announced he will turn pro to pursue a basketball career.
  • Northeastern High School graduate Kobi Nwandu has opted to pursue a pro basketball career.
  • Nwandu averaged 14.6 points per game this past season for NCAA Division I Niagara.
  • Nwandu played for three different colleges, two at the D-II level and Niagara.

It took five years for Kobi Nwandu to play NCAA Division I men’s basketball, but after one season, he believes he's ready for the next level.

The Northeastern High School graduate was named to the All-Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Second Team recently after averaging 14.6 points per game for Niagara University. Instead of using the extra year of eligibility offered by the NCAA because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Nwandu has decided to turn pro.

“I figured with the year I had it was best for me to start pursuing a career now rather than come back,” Nwandu said. “The goal for the majority of college basketball players, or basketball players in general, is to be professional and I felt I had a good chance to do so, so I went for it.”

Nwandu’s career began at NCAA D-II East Stroudsburg, where he spent two seasons. After he led the Warriors in scoring at 11.9 ppg, he transferred to NCAA D-II Le Moyne College. In one season with the Dolphins, his 16.6 ppg led the team.

The former Bobcat then transferred again after the 2018-2019 season to Niagara, when Le Moyne coach Patrick Beilein, son of former Michigan and Cleveland Cavaliers coach John Beilein, became the Purple Eagles’ new leader.

Flourishing at Niagara: Nwandu had to sit out the 2019-2020 season after the transfer and Patrick Beilein resigned before the next campaign began, citing personal reasons. Former Duke University guard Greg Paulus was named Niagara's head coach, and despite all the change and time off, Nwandu flourished when he got on the court.

His 14.6 ppg were fourth in his conference and he made 44% of his shots, good for fifth in the MAAC. The 6-foot, 6-inch, 210-pound forward started every game for the Purple Eagles and played 34 minutes per contest.

“Every year, pretty much I had to prove myself again,” Nwandu said. ”I felt like I was just restarting and restarting and restarting. To start the year, the first thing on my mind was to prove what I can do. Moving up (to NCAA D-I) people expect there to be like this little learning curve, I guess you could say. I guess it's not anticipated for me to have almost better numbers going from D-II to D-I in my first year doing it. So I guess you could say for sure I had to prove myself.”

Paulus impressed by Nwandu: Paulus was impressed by the progression Nwandu made during the season and his ability to be coached.

The forward was a 27% 3-point shooter at East Stroudsburg, a 33% shooter at Le Moyne and improved to 37% from beyond the arc at Niagara this season.

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“He makes the team better,” Paulus said. “His ability to use his experiences, to use his understanding of how to play and his ability to make plays on both ends. I think his ability to have that type of versatility, where he can use a ball screen and can attack, he can post up, and you can put him in different situations, and because of his versatility he can put a team in a good position.”

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Getting a taste of pro ball: Nwandu got his first taste of pro basketball in April when he played in the Dos Equis 3X3U National Championship.

The tournament featured cash prizes and paired up players from similar conferences in games broadcast on ESPN2.

The redshirt senior considered a return to college for one more year, but after the journey to get to this point, he is ready for a new challenge. Nwandu signed with an agent and plans to enter the NBA draft this summer.

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Looking to prove he belongs: Spending five years in college at three different schools wasn’t the plan Nwandu envisioned when he left Northeastern, but it got him to this position.

 Now, he is excited to prove he belongs all over again and achieve his dream.

“It's been a long road for sure,” Nwandu said. “I can't tell you I expected this road to go the way it did, but it was definitely the goal. I just maximized my potential and skill and (want to) see how far I can take this basketball thing.”

Reach Rob Rose at rrose@yorkdispatch.com.