Mobi Ikegwuruka showed a lot of potential playing for Ireland in the U16 European Championship B Division in August 2019 before arriving at Get Better Academy* in the Czech Republic a few months later. He was long and athletic which allowed him to create a lot of turnovers on the wing of Ireland’s 2-3 zone. But he turned it over even more on the offensive end, and shot inefficiently from every part of the court. Ikegwuruka had never played anything but zone on defense and hadn’t been coached much on his shot or ball handling. He was very raw and it showed.
Arriving at GBA later than most of his teammates, Ikegwuruka started the season on the U19-B team as he was still the raw player from the Irish U16 team. He regularly flashed his offensive skillset in practice but he needed a higher usage role to actually apply the skills he was quickly picking up.
Defensive playmaking is second nature for Ikegwuruka but there were a lot of defensive principles that he had to learn before he could comprehend and execute a scouting report like he would be required to do in U19 extraliga. However, after a couple months in the second U19 league, it was clear that he was no longer being challenged…
He was then moved up to the U19 team for the GBA Young Guns tournament. In the second game of the tournament, against FC Barcelona, he had 10 points, 7 rebounds, with two steals and a block. As the youngest player on the court other than Teodor Simić, Ikegwuruka was a +10 in 19 minutes of a 15 point loss.
At this point, Ikegwuruka had earned a spot on the men’s team roster. In 5 minutes, he had 2 points, two rebounds, a block, and a steal in his senior team debut. Unfortunately, the season was cut short just a few days later but it was clear that the defense would translate against pros.
Ikegwuruka’s defensive playmaking is where he truly stands out. He’s everywhere on the defensive end, sometimes touching the ball more often than the man he’s guarding. He racks up a ridiculous number of deflections with his length and quick reflexes. However, the fundamentals of off-ball defense (guarding different off-ball screens and actions, rotating when a teammate helps, etc.) are hard for him to pick up when he’s yet to see a level that punishes him for roaming off the ball. Instead, he relies on his natural gifts – and previous experience in zone – to be in the right spot and make plays on defense. He does this without a high foul count, especially relative to the number of steals he gets.
The havoc that Ikegwuruka is able to cause makes a lot of these risks worth the reward. At higher levels, the risks will be punished more often and it’s important for him to adjust and be more careful about when he does and doesn’t decide to gamble.
Ikegwuruka is super quick laterally and excellent at creating turnovers on the ball with his length and activity. He is starting to develop a feel for how far to help off his man in help, when and where to just stunt and get back, and how much space to give when his man does get the ball. Because he doesn’t have a lot of experience playing man defense, he still doesn’t have much of an understanding for pick and roll defense but he’s switchable onto nearly any opponent with his size and foot speed.
As he’s getting more comfortable with his handle, Ikegwuruka is becoming very aggressive attacking the rim. He uses his body very well, attacking the defender on the floor to create space to get the ball to the rim.
Ikegwuruka’s length and impressive vertical make him a constant threat to dunk over the defense. His defense allows him to get in the open court and score in transition. Now that he’s handling the ball well enough to attack the rim and finish with authority, expect many more clips like these throughout the season:
Ikegwuruka’s crossover moves are emphatic and cover a lot of ground. Combined with his super quick first and second steps, he can get by defenders easily in one-on-one. When he gets in space, especially in transition, his long strides and downhill speed make him tough to stop.
Ikegwuruka’s ball handling is still raw, he’s prone to losing his dribble even against minimal pressure. But he has made a lot of progress in refining his handle which has opened up the playmaking aspects of his game. He has great vision and a developing feel for the game but he’s yet to be a reliable playmaker. Ikegwuruka has never been a player to make quick reactive passes or draw defenders to the paint to open up teammates because he’s never been able to dribble well enough for something like that to be an option. As he’s gaining trust in his handle, it’s translating into impressive passing flashes more and more. He’s been able to open up so much more for himself and others offensively.
Ikegwuruka came to GBA and immediately was shooting 55-60% pretty consistently in tracked 3-point shooting drills, the natural shooting touch has seemingly always been there. This season, his release is sped up and he’s a more assertive shooter in games. The percentages aren’t there yet in a small sample size but there’s little reason to believe his shooting won’t be passable, at a minimum.
The shot-making that Ikegwuruka has flashed from time to time and his natural touch are very intriguing going forward. With his handle improving rapidly, it will be interesting to see how much he looks to create shots for himself off the dribble. There is potential for him to develop into an elite shot creator, even at the NBA level. All the tools are there but it’s not easy to put it all together.
I expect Ikegwuruka to make one of the biggest jumps of any prospect moving from U16 to U18.— Drew Mastin (@andrewmastin) October 11, 2020
Through 2 games in each the Czech U19 extraliga and Men’s 1st Liga, Ikegwuruka has 21 steals and 6 blocks in 88 minutes on the year.
And he’s starting to make shots like this in game… pic.twitter.com/jNe4mKXUBw
*Full disclosure: I’ve previously coached Mobi at GBA. I recognize that objectivity – which is always the goal at ID Prospects – is more difficult in this situation. For that reason, I’ve made sure to include more clips than I normally would because as everybody knows, “film don’t lie.”
As a result of the day to day obsession with development as a coach, I typically find myself with a more negative view on a player’s outlook than I would otherwise. I also acknowledge that knowing a player personally changes your perspective as you want them to succeed and reach their goals.
We have Ikegwuruka rated as a 4-star prospect, ranking him 11th in our latest 2003 generation rankings. Jalek Felton, the #27 player in the 2017 recruiting class according to RSCI, recently signed to play professionally for GBA. After a few weeks of training with him, Felton believes that if Ikegwuruka was an American in the high school system, he would be a consensus 5-star prospect. With an October 2003 birthday, he’s one of the youngest recruits in the 2021 recruiting class. We will be watching closely to see if he can take the steps to improve his shooting and playmaking that could move him even higher in our next rankings update.
The only player who I’ve ever seen digest information and apply it to their game as quickly as Ikegwuruka is Freddie Gillespie. Gillespie is now a 2020 NBA Draft prospect out of Baylor where he became a starter halfway through his junior year. He started his college career as a D3 benchwarmer playing 16 minutes for Carleton College his entire freshman season.
Freddie and Mobi share a lot of the same characteristics. They’re both very intelligent, extremely hard workers with absurd length and natural gifts. That combination makes it very hard to put a ceiling on where either can take their basketball careers. When Freddie was sitting out as a redshirt transfer, a lot of people told him that if he worked hard he might be able to earn a scholarship for the coming season. That may have seemed like an unrealistic goal to some, but Freddie had even bigger goals. I remember taking him to my old high school to play pick-up over thanksgiving break that year when he didn’t really stand out among high school players for his skill, only his size. Two years later, he earned All-Big 12 second team honors. This past year, I watched Mobi fly past every realistic objective in his development in the same way that Freddie did at Baylor. As long as he continues to work hard like Freddie, I won’t be the one to set a limit on what Mobi can be.