All the height and length in the world doesn’t help you if you can’t see. Syracuse basketball fans were forced to grapple with that cold truth during the 2016-17 season, which was supposed to feature an impossibly stretchy wrecking ball at the heart of the 2-3 zone. But Paschal Chukwu’s first campaign in Central New York ended before it really started.
Chukwu suffered a torn retina when he caught a no-look pass from John Gillon with his right eye in the Orange’s second game of the season, a win over Holy Cross in mid-November. Chukwu underwent surgery to repair the injury the morning of December 17 (and would have been fortunate not to witness SU’s game against Georgetown that afternoon) and didn’t suit up again. Chukwu ultimately went under the knife two more times to fix an issue that reportedly left him temporarily blind in his right eye.
It was a disappointing outcome for a player who appears to be oozing with upside from all seven feet and two inches of his frame. Chukwu was a consensus top-100 recruit and ESPN’s No. 7 center in the Class of 2014. Orange Nation may not be desperate for the Mr. Fantastic clone to return — some have likely forgotten he even exists — but his raw size remains tantalizing, so today’s Chukwu news can only be viewed as a positive.
According to multiple reports, Chukwu is expected to apply for a medical redshirt. If the NCAA grants his request, Chukwu will have three years of eligibility remaining. We don’t know when he plans to submit the application, but word should come soon — and the NCAA’s decision should be a “yes.”
To be qualified for a medical redshirt, a player’s injury must have sidelined him for at least 70 percent of his team’s games in a given season, and he can’t have seen (no pun intended) action after the halfway mark of the campaign. In this case, Chukwu’s last outing came December 10 against Boston University, Syracuse’s seventh game of the year. The Nigeria native tried wearing goggles in the team’s win over Monmouth November 18, but ditched the specs and played four more games without them before hitting the bench for good.
Even though Chukwu was severely hampered by injury — and that’s putting it lightly; the man was half-blind — for at least five of his seven games in an SU uniform, he flashed impressive shot-blocking chops during his cameo. The Providence transfer swatted an average of two shots in just 15.4 minutes per game; his 5.2 blocks per 40 minutes was comfortably the highest figure on the SU roster. Chukwu’s paint protection would be a welcome addition to a Syracuse team that allowed opponents to hit 60 percent of their shots at the rim (197th in the nation) last season, per hoop-math.com.
Chukwu isn’t and probably never will be a star, but don’t roll your eyes at today’s news. The tallest player in Syracuse history should improve with every game — Chukwu didn’t start playing basketball consistently until he was a teenager — and by the time his potential extra year of eligibility rolls around, he could be a consistent contributor.