The Eagles' first game of the season is Friday, Dec. 2 at Sussex Central. First home game is Tuesday, Dec. 6 vs. Sussex Tech.
The Smyrna High boys basketball team has earned the respect of opponents with trips to the state tournament quarterfinals the past two years, usually with smaller players who could cut to the basket, make outside shots and play good defense.
Now with the addition of two 7-footers, the Eagles will probably be feared.
Zubui Nwankwo, who’s nearly 7-feet-2, and Abba Lawal, who’s 6-feet-10, are brothers from Nigeria and their family now lives in Smyrna. They previously resided in Ohio and Kentucky.
While they’ve only played basketball for about four years, Smyrna Coach Andrew Mears sees big potential.
“They’ve been playing at a high level for a few years. They’ve been playing AAU ball,” Mears said. “A lot of times a big guy is a little raw, but they’ve got a lot going for them. Zubui has nice touch around the rim and Abba has a nice jumper.”
Mears said his challenge will be getting the players to work together as a team.
“With the pieces we have from last year and our new additions, we have to develop chemistry and continuity,” he said. “It’s typically what you go through at the start of every season, but even more so this year because these guys have just started playing together.”
Also, after a season in which his tallest player was just over 6-feet-tall, the style of play will be different for the Eagles.
“You can’t coach the same way. We’re going to have to change our approach to certain things,” he said.
If plans work out, the Eagles could have the ideal inside-outside game, with the two 7-footers inside and strong outside shooting from returning players like junior Caleb Matthews who was a First Team All-Conference selection last year, receiving Honorable Mention on the All-State team.
Matthews said he heard people talking about the two 7-footers at school, “but I didn’t believe it until I saw them walk in and they had to duck their heads to get through the door.”
“I’m excited. I think we can win the state championship,” said Matthews who is a strong outside shooter and a constant threat from the three-point line.
However, he realizes the challenges the team faces. The Eagles lost a lot of experience, with five seniors graduating from last year’s squad.
“With so many new players, we have to get everybody to jell,” Matthews said.
The Eagles will also be tested early with three Northern Division games in December and the Slam Dunk to the Beach Tournament in Lewes, which features some of the top high school teams in the nation.
“It is a process,” said Mears, “but I’m excited. We certainly have a high ceiling but we have a lot of work we have to do to get there.”
About the new additions
Nwankwo, a junior, said his favorite part of the game is defense.
“I love blocking shots,” he said. “I’ve been working on free throws. I want to improve that. I just want to help the team. We should be pretty good if we play together.”
He said the reception he’s received in Smyrna has been “great.”
“Everybody asks where I’m from. I get that a lot,” he said.
What does he think of his coach?
“He’s great. He’s teaching me everything,” he said.
Abba Lawal, a sophomore, said he’s enjoying life at Smyrna High.
“It’s really good. I’ve met a lot of good people,” he said.
What does he like the most?
“The education. I like my classes. I like that sports are strong. We’ve got a good team and I like playing here,” he said.
Lawal enjoys playing both offense and defense and said he’d like to work on improving his ball handling skills and his jump shot.
“I really want to help the team,” he said. “I think we’re going to win the championship.”
In addition to basketball, he also likes playing soccer and volleyball.
One conflict the brothers have is their choice of favorite teams in the NBA. Lawal is a Clippers fan, but Nwankwo roots for the Lakers.
Smyrna High School 2016 boys basketball schedule
Dec. 2 at Sussex Central 6:15 p.m.
Dec. 6 home vs. Sussex Tech 7:15 p.m.
Dec. 8 home vs. William Penn 6:15 p.m.
Dec. 15 home vs. Caesar Rodney 7:15 p.m.
Dec. 20 at Milford 6:15 p.m.
Dec. 27 vs. Bishop McNamara (Maryland) at Slam Dunk to the Beach Tournament 12 p.m.
Dec. 29 vs. Sanford at Slam Dunk to the Beach Tournament 2 p.m.
Jan. 3 at Polytech 7:15 p.m.
Jan. 6 at Cape Henlopen 7:15 p.m.
Jan. 10 home vs. Salesianum 7:15 p.m.
Jan. 12 at Dover 7:15 p.m.
Jan. 17 home vs. Sussex Central 7:15 p.m.
Jan. 24 at Sussex Tech 7:15 p.m.
Jan. 31 at Concord 5:15 p.m.
Feb. 3 at Caesar Rodney 7:15 p.m.
Feb. 7 home vs. Polytech 7:15 p.m.
Feb. 9 home vs. St. Elizabeth 7:15 p.m.
Feb. 15 home vs. Cape Henlopen 7:15 p.m.
Feb. 17 home vs. Dover 7:15 p.m.
Feb. 21 at A.I. du Pont 6:15 p.m.