7-foot-1 newcomer Nwankwo leads Smyrna boys past Sussex Tech

Photos Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh

SMYRNA — When the Smyrna High boys’ basketball team trots out from the locker room for warmups, each player jumps and slaps the top of the doorway.

Except Zubi Nwankwo.

He ducks.

The 7-foot-1 junior center made his home debut for the Eagles and was the team’s leading scorer with 12 points in a 64-33 Henlopen Conference Northern Division victory over Sussex Tech on Tuesday night. Smyrna improved to 2-0 on the young season.

Nwankwo transferred to Smyrna from Wesley Christian in Kentucky. He is joined by 6-foot-10 sophomore Abba Lawal, who previously played in Ohio. Both were born in Nigeria and moved to the United States where they have only been playing basketball for about five years.

“I just want to help this team,” Nwankwo said. “It’s different being in a new school but I have to focus on what coach is saying. We should be pretty good if we play together.”

For a team who already had a lot returning from last year’s squad which made the state quarterfinals, the two big men give the Eagles a different element.

Nwankwo announced his presence on Tuesday with a thunderous block two minutes into the contest. He finished with five rejections and one dunk.

Junior Caleb Matthews and sophomore Jaymeir Garnett also scored in double-figures with 11 points apiece. Junior Dymer’e Richardson and senior Akeem Ferrell chipped in nine points each.

With that solid core of returners and the new additions, expectations are high for the Eagles.

“I think we can win a state championship as long as we can figure out how everybody fits into our system and how to play together,” Matthews said.

But there is a learning curve for adapting to a new system with the new players.

“The height definitely changes some things,” said Smyrna coach Andrew Mears. “Both with how teams may play us but also with what we’re used to doing. It takes us out of our comfort zone a little bit but that’s obviously a good problem to have.”

Mears said he is pleased with the work the two centers are doing to fit into a new program.

“They make it easy because they work hard,” he said. “They’re very humble and very respectful. It’s been a very easy transition.”

Smyrna is coming off a season where the Eagles finished second in the Henlopen North and went 18-4 overall. They have made it to the state quarterfinals each of the last two years.

The Eagles opened this campaign up with a 69-40 win at Sussex Central on Friday. Matthews was the leading scorer that night with 22 points.

“I think we’re playing defense really well so far this year,” Matthews said. “We’re still figuring out how to play together but once we figure that out, I think we will be really tough to stop.”

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