EuroLeague prospect James Nnaji, 18, submits paperwork to enter NBA draft


James Nnaji, the No. 24 basketball prospect in the ESPN Top 100, has submitted paperwork to the league office to make himself eligible for this year’s NBA draft, his agents, Gerard Raventos and Deirunas Visockas of YouFirst/Tandem Sports, told ESPN on Thursday.

Nnaji, who turns 19 on Aug. 14, is the second-youngest player currently projected to be drafted. He ranks fourth in the EuroLeague in blocked shots on a per-minute basis after leading the Spanish Liga ACB in that category last season.

Nnaji is seeing inconsistent playing time competing at the highest levels of international basketball, averaging nine minutes per game over 37 contests across the EuroLeague, Spanish ACB and domestic Cup competitions on one of the deepest rosters in Europe. Barcelona is in first place in the ACB and finished second in the EuroLeague, whose playoffs start next week.

Despite his lack of playing time, NBA scouts consider Nnaji perhaps the most physically gifted player in the 2023 draft, standing 6-foot-11, 226 pounds with a 7-foot-5 wingspan and tremendous quickness and explosiveness that make him a highlight-reel caliber finisher and shot-blocker.

Nnaji started playing basketball in July 2016 in his home country of Nigeria, moving to Ratgeber Basketball Academy in Hungary thanks to a 2018 Facebook post and video he made with his mother’s assistance following the Giants of Africa camp, founded by Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri.

Nnaji spent two years in Hungary before moving to Barcelona in August 2020 thanks to another highlight reel his agency compiled in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. He progressed through the ranks of junior teams and the Spanish fifth division to carve out the role he now has under head coach Sarunas Jasikevicius.

The challenge Nnaji, like other European-based prospects, might face is his team’s calendar, with a season likely to extend well into June and perhaps past the day of the draft depending on how far Barcelona advances. That might make it difficult for Nnaji to meet with teams, conduct workouts and participate in other pre-draft activities, such as the scouting combine, like most NBA teams would hope. Nnaji’s agents say they are working with Barcelona on a solution that would allow teams to see him.

The NBA combine will be held May 15-21 in Chicago, and the draft will be June 22 in Brooklyn, New York.

Source : ESPN