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NORMAL - Nedu Onyeuku is glad he stayed put.

The 6-foot-3 senior guard on the Illinois State basketball team announced last spring he was going to transfer to another school.

But by the time summer rolled around, the Omaha native had changed his mind.

"Last year didn't go the way I wanted it to go at all," said Onyeuku, who decided just before the start of summer school to return to ISU. "I wouldn't call last season disappointing as much as I would call it a learning experience.

"After the season was over I was confused. I didn't get as much playing time as I wanted. People were talking to me about what I should do. And I didn't know about the situation here because they were bringing in so many guards."

Onyeuku, who considered transferring to Kentucky Wesleyan or the University of New Mexico where his junior college roommate Chris Collins was playing, finally listened to his teammates and asked ISU coach Porter Moser if he would take him back.

"I stayed in contact with Dana (Ford), Khalif (Ford) and Trey Guidry," said Onyeuku, who was living with his parents in Omaha at the time. "They said they missed me and I missed those guys. The more I talked with them and was away from campus, the more I looked at things differently.

"I realized I had to take a look at myself first. I found I was blaming other people for me not playing. Coach always says, 'it's the players who determine the playing time.' I guess I deserved the playing time I got last year.

"I had to sit down and realize it wasn't all on Coach. He was hard on me, but that's what I needed. I saw things I was doing wrong and needed to correct them in order to be successful."

Dana Ford, Onyeuku's roommate last year, said the two talked about his options.

"I know he and Coach kind of butted heads a little bit last year, but me and Nedu both know Coach cares about us and wants the best things for our lives," said Ford. "I think he finally understood that Coach and his staff really care about him. I think that was one of the things that really made Nedu come back.

"I just tried to tell him that Coach has to show us tough love sometimes. He's not supposed to be our friend all the time. I told him Coach has high expectations of us as far as how we're supposed to carry ourselves on and off the court. We both decided it would probably be in Nedu's best interest if he tried to come back because this was the best place for him."

Moser said Onyeuku had to convince him that he wanted to remain a Redbird.

"I had to feel in my heart that he had genuinely learned some things," Moser said. "He needed to learn some issues about time management, about some things in the academic world and he needed some discipline.

"But it all came down to Nedu really wanting to come back. He had to convince me he was ready to change, and he did. So far this year he has been more responsible. He has made huge strides from last year on the court and in the classroom. He's making the most of a second chance."

Onyeuku has been the first player off the bench for the Redbirds this season, averaging 21.4 minutes including 24.3 in the last four games. He has scored in double figures in two of the last three games. He is shooting 59.4 percent from the field, while averaging 7.3 points and 3.1 rebounds for the season.

Coming off the bench the last two years has been a big adjustment for Onyeuku, who was a starter in high school (where he played for former Creighton player Reggie Morris) and at Western Iowa Community College.

"There's nothing bad about it, but it's just different," Onyeuku said. "It's been a transition for me. I'm getting used to it now. I feel more comfortable this year because I know I'm going in the game.

"It's good (not to start) because you get a chance to sit down and access the things going on in the game before you go in. I look at the pace of the game and the man I know I'm going to defend. I try to bring energy to the team on both ends of the court and do whatever I need to do."

Onyeuku, a native of Nigeria, saw himself fitting into a defensive high-energy role this season.

"And I saw myself as a person with some experience who could help the younger guys," he added. "I also learned last year that the main difference between junior college and Division I is you have to think in Division I. You can't just play off instinct."

Onyeuku scored a career-high 16 points against Penn State in his first game in an ISU uniform at the Marquette Tournament in Milwaukee last year.

"Sometimes a good first game can be bad for you," said Moser. "After that game, Nedu thought there was some sense of when he'd get on the court he'd try to really score a lot early and that affected his game.

"We talked about the process it takes to be successful. It can't all happen at once. There isn't a 10-point shot. He's taken that talk to heart and the results are going to mean better production for him and the team."

Moser likes the offensive and defensive spark Onyeuku has provided off the bench thus far.

"He can really penetrate, draw and kick," said Moser, whose team has a 5-2 record ahead of Saturday's 9:05 p.m. nonconference game at California State-Northridge. "He can get to the rim quick.

"Last year he wasn't making good decisions with the ball. He would rather shoot it from the perimeter. Now he's penetrating more, drawing a lot of attention and getting the ball to guys for open shots. He isn't trying to jump over guys and put up crazy shots. He's much more under control."

But with a team-best 40-plus-inch vertical jump, the desire to jump over an opponent is always lingering.

"I've always been a jumper," said Onyeuku, who dunked his first basketball as a sixth-grader on a dare from some older guys at the playground. "It's always been the main part of my game.

"It's the most exciting thing for me to do in a game. It gets the crowd into it and gets your teammates going."


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