By Will Vandervort.
By Will Vandervort
Landry Nnoko felt more and more depressed every time Virginia’s Mike Tobey scored or grabbed a rebound.
Virginia’s center scored 14 points and grabbed nine rebounds in leading the Cavaliers to an important win over Clemson on Feb. 15. Nnoko, and his teammates, could not help but think about what might have been had he not been stuck at home fighting off the flu.
“I was talking to a couple of my teammates and we were talking about how his presence on the court does a lot for us,” forward Jaron Blossomgame said. “Even if he is not having a good game, his presence there as a guy that can defend, rebound and do other stuff on the court helps us.
“That really helps us out in the mental part of the game.”
Nnoko did more than just give the Tigers a mental edge when he returned for the NC State game on Tuesday night. The 6-foot-10 sophomore scored nine points and grabbed six rebounds, while playing 29 minutes off the bench. He also had three block shots as the Tigers cruised to a 73-56 win.
“I think the big thing with Landry is his confidence,” Brownell said. “He is becoming a little bit more confident and is developing a dominating personality. The challenge for me in coaching him is to get him nastier all the time, make him more physical and have a demanding personality out on the court.”
So far this season Nnoko is averaging 5.8 points and 6.1 rebounds per game. Those don’t seem like big numbers but you have to understand where he has come from and how he is helping the team now.
Both his points and rebounds are up from last season when he averaged one point and 1.4 rebounds per night. The biggest improvement is his shooting where he is up from 33.4 percent last year to 55.4 percent from the field this year.
“He is better at everything. I think where his impact is felt on the team the most is on the defensive end,” Brownell said. “I think, frankly, he is a better post defender than our two guys last year. He is bigger and his length around the rim is a factor. He can block some shots. He alters some shots. He has good foot quickness for a guy his size to be able to move latterly and be able to stay in front of certain people.
“His rebounding has been solid. He certainly can get much better offensively, but I think we are starting to see him make some moves and score in some ways. He actually can make some 15-foot jump shots every once in a while. We don’t ask him to do this a lot, but he can do it a little bit.”
The best example of Nnoko’s improvement came at Notre Dame. With the game on the line at the end of the first overtime period he calmly went to the foul line and sank two free throws to tie the game up and force a second extra period.
“It’s been hard work,” Nnoko said Friday. “I have been trying to improve every day since I have got here. Coach (Mike) Winiecki, he really pushes me and always tries to tell me what to do. He keeps pushing me to work harder.”
Nnoko has worked hard to get bigger and stronger as well as improve his footwork in the post.
“Just the way I move now I feel like I get a lot wider,” he said. “I used to play super small and skinny. I tried to improve my angle in the post. When I make my move, I use my body.”
Nnoko will have to use his body a lot this afternoon when the Tigers visit Georgia Tech for a noon tip in Atlanta. Yellow Jackets’ center Daniel Miller scored 18 points against Clemson on Feb. 4 on 9 of 13 shooting.
“He surprised me. You have to get right up on him,” Nnoko said.
Miller also had eight rebounds and two blocked shots in the Tigers’ 45-41 victory.
“Daniel Miller is a good player. He is one of the best defensive players I think in our league and an improving offensive player,” Brownell said. “I have enjoyed watching his development. He is kind of what you would hope for when you recruit guys, especially a big guy that slowly gets a little bit better and polishes his game.
“His confidence grows. He is a tremendous rim protector now. He has really evolved into a nice high-post jump shooter.”
Not better example of that than in that last meeting between the Tigers and the Jackets. With Georgia Tech down two points in the final two minutes they designed a play coming off the base line that allowed Miller to pop out and sink a 15-foot jumper.
“That is a heck of a shot for a big guy and for a coach to call that in the last two minutes of the game,” Brownell said. “That is a heck of a call in terms of confidence in your post player.”
A call Brownell hopes one day to use for Nnoko. Until then, he will keep watching the Yaounde, Cameroon native keep improving.