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Player Report Card: Ejike Obinna

We (finally) start our review of the basketball season.

NCAA Basketball: NIT Season Tip-Off-Seton Hall vs Vanderbilt Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Here’s a fun stat: in the 2017-18 basketball season, Ejike Obinna started 14 games, the fifth-most of any player on the roster (behind Jeff Roberson, Riley LaChance, Saben Lee, and Maxwell Evans.)

Obinna also played the fewest minutes of the eleven available scholarship players on the team. A midseason bout with illness played some role in that, but even with that, Obinna averaged just 9.4 minutes per game while starting half of the team’s SEC games.

That’s an odd usage pattern, to say the least. Going back to 2001-02 on, I couldn’t find a single Vanderbilt player who (a) started at least half the games he played and (b) averaged less than ten minutes per game. The closest I could find was in 2005-06, when Ted Skuchas (Ted Skuchas? Of COURSE it was Ted Skuchas) started 16 games and averaged 14.4 minutes per game.

I’m at a loss to figure out why, exactly, Obinna was deployed in this manner. The usual pattern was for Obinna to start the game, pick up an early foul or three (he averaged 8.5 fouls committed per 40 minutes), and then spend most of the rest of the game on the bench in favor of Clevon Brown or Djery Baptiste, usually Clevon Brown.

And remember what I wrote the other day about our interior defense? Obinna blocked two shots all season. Two, like half of four. Two, like a fifth of how many shots Luke Kornet blocked against Auburn in a single game in 2016.

Of course, all of this comes with a really big caveat. Ejike Obinna turned 18 in December, making him exceedingly young even by the standards of a college freshman. In all truth, this probably should have been a redshirt year, but with little else in the paint he was forced into action. Judging Obinna too harshly for his freshman season is like judging Kornet harshly for his freshman season — it wasn’t good, but then he probably shouldn’t have been playing anyway. It’s not really his fault that we had to see that.

Which doesn’t mean that Obinna didn’t have his moments. He scored 14 points at Mississippi State on January 16, and he had 5 points and 7 boards against Virginia in November, followed by 9 points on 3-of-3 shooting against Seton Hall. And then he played a total of two minutes over the team’s next four games.

I kind of suspect that maybe that midseason illness just derailed his whole season, because early on he looked raw but promising. Remind me why he didn’t just redshirt?

Grade: We’ll just call this an “incomplete.” Looking at his game log for the season it really does look like he never really got on track after missing most of December and early January. I’m holding out hope that he’ll develop, but such hopes have been dashed before (hi, Darius Coulibaly.)