NEWTOWN – Kachi Nzeh was running on the track and playing a little basketball in his sophomore year at Upper Darby High when he realized he had to make a choice.
He could keep going in circles, or he could listen to his body, which was growing so rapidly that his muscles and joints were tormented by all those mid-distance sprints. He could accept that he was developing a 7-foot-3 wingspan and that his natural jumping ability would allow him to start rebounding over the block.
He could stay in Upper Darby and play some sports.
Or, he could take that phone call and that chance and become the fastest high school basketball rookie in the high school class of 2023.
So Nzeh did, accepting an offer from school coach George Ben Luber, a renowned basketball teacher, and known, among other successful projects, for helping to make the former Villanova goalie Ryan Arcidiacono an NBA player.
“I was the youngest college player at Upper Darby, and I really didn’t like it that much,” Nzeh said. âWe don’t win any games and I always thought about moving, I just didn’t know where. I knew I had to get out of Upper Darby High School and go somewhere that I could figure out what my path was.
Luber was first alerted not only to Nzeh but to Gestin Liberis, who was becoming a promising big man in Bonner-Prendie, by the area’s basketball scout, still on alert, Allen Rubin. While both are talented, they needed to be honed, and as Luber had gained a reputation for individual player development, the fit would be ideal.
Nzeh accepted Luber’s offer to upgrade to sophomore last year and attend Bucks County’s highly endowed boarding school, which loosely follows the Ivy League’s financial aid model to keep tuition down. or fees. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Cougars would only play four games last season, but Nzeh is said to be averaging around 17 points and starting to create a buzz. But it was during a few summer showcases – one at the Hun School, another at Blair Academy – that there were no more secrets.
âBefore that, I was kind of an unknown player,â Nzeh said. âThe coaches weren’t there to see me but to see other players. But that’s when the coaches started reaching out to me.
So at 17, before playing a game in his junior season, Nzeh had several Power 6 scholarship offers and an interest that kept skyrocketing.
âAll the work I did with Ben paid off,â Nzeh said. âI played aggressively. I played like I had something to prove.
This was the plan, not only to gravitate towards the George School for a quality education, but for what Luber could add to his basketball skills. That’s why Nzeh showed up for off-season practice at 5.30am, looking to develop his ball handling and improve his outside shooting form.
âI just told him that I would share my experience with you,â Luber said. “I’ll show up early in the morning and get the job done with you.” As long as you come forward with a positive attitude and a willingness to work, we’ll find answers together. And I believe in this formula. It’s our mentality. This is our mantra. It is progressing on perfection and remaining humble enough to know the difference. And for a 6-foot-8 player with a 7-3 wingspan, who is one of the fastest runners in the country, it’s no rocket science.
âYou can’t mess this up. “
Nzeh admits he was blessed with athletic genes, as his father, Anozie Nzeh, was previously successful in football and track and field, and his mother, Uloma Nzeh, was a track star before the family emigrated. from Nigeria to Delaware County. When Kachi is not living at George School, he often commutes from his home near Upper Darby High, with his 20-year-old brother, Chigozie Nzeh, who volunteers to drive.
âBen is such a great teacher and the impact he had on Kachi has been monumental,â Chigozie said. âEven outside of basketball there were life lessons. It was great for him.
It’s early in Nzeh’s junior season, but the Cougars are 5-1 with a chance of being nationally relevant. Senior 6-10 Liberis has turned into a college prospect, and second-year guard Christian Bliss has several Division I offers. But it’s Nzeh who is causing a stir, with how he can establish a position under the basket at one end then, literally with a competitive sprinter’s flurry, get to the other end to protect the rim.
âI would always say he’s one of the most invisible prospects in the country,â said Luber, the former Penn State point guard. âI played in the Big Ten. I coached for 10 years at Division I level. I’ve seen enough to know how special Kachi is. And he can play anywhere. I think any coach will want him once they get to know him.
Nzeh hit the clock on a track career that once had him in the national youth spotlight, too much pain, too magnetic basketball opportunities.
âI feel like I got too big for the track,â he said. âWhen I was running and in my prime I was like 6-5 and the injuries weren’t that crazy. Then I started to grow taller and more and more injuries started to happen. So I was a little done with that.
It was about time … or so said the parade of college coaches heading for George School and a big man from Upper Darby.
âAt first it was a bit overwhelming,â Nzeh said. âI don’t really know when I’ll be making decisions. But since I was able to build relationships with assistant coaches and in some cases head coaches, I found a lot of them to be really cool people.
“It was fun.”