by Sean Begin
When Obie Nwadike took the phone call that would bring him home, he was still dressed in the green and white of the Wagner Seahawks.
Nwadike was on Grymes Hill in Staten Island, working to get the Wagner men’s basketball team ready for another year, fresh off helping them to a 19-12 finish and second place in the Northeast Conference.
That didn’t change Nwadike’s decision, though, when Central Connecticut’s head coach, Howie Dickenman, called and offered him a spot as an assistant coach.
“It was absolutely a no-brainer,” says the 29-year-old from Jersey City, New Jersey on his decision to return to his college alma mater.
Nwadike sits behind the desk in the office that he seems to still be settling into, dressed in a blue, long-sleeve Blue Devils shirt and workout pants.
“To come back here, I mean, what better place to coach, hopefully have success and teach guys at a place I’m very comfortable with. Probably the best four years of my life happened at Central Connecticut State,” Nwadike said.
Nwadike was a starting forward on the 2006-07 team that stormed through the NEC with a 16-2 record en route to Central’s third March Madness appearance ever.
After he graduated, Nwadike played in Europe for four years before returning to his high school alma mater to serve as an assistant coach there. Last season, his first with Wagner, saw him return to the court at Detrick Gym for the first time since graduation.
“Everyone understood the magnitude of the situation. I was here to coach a game and win a game,” Nwadike said of his return, and of facing his former coach. “But knowing what this place meant to me, it was a little awkward.”
Now Nwadike is working with Dickenman instead of against him, preparing the men’s team for another long season, a men’s team that Dickenman called his most experienced since Nwadike’s took the floor eight years ago.
“This season is going to be a marathon, not a sprint,” Nwadike said. “For me the biggest thing I’ve preached to these guys is camaraderie, togetherness, enjoying the process, understanding the process, believing in what we’re trying to do.”
Part of that message is written in dry-erase marker on a white board across from his desk: “The pressure is not on us to perform, the pressure is on us to prepare.”
“It’s something that I got from a coach I played for in Europe. That one stuck with me,” said Nwadike. “I played for a lot of tough coaches but the one thing I always remember was being prepared.”
For Nwadike, it was preparedness that allowed him and the team’s he played on to find success, from his AAU travel teams in New Jersey to St. Anthony’s (his high school) to here in New Britain.
“Performing should be the easy part,” he said. “It’ll still be a challenge but going into games we should feel comfortable because we’ve prepared. If you go in prepared it makes it easier to perform.”
Nwadike was the first assistant coach hired by Dickenman during the offseason when Dickenman – who, like Nwadike, coaches at his alma mater – replaced his entire staff.
And while Nwadike worked with Malcolm McMillan and the other guards when he first got here in the summer, he takes pride in the work he’s done with the forwards on the team.
“My love is with the bigs because that’s what I was,” Nwadike said. “As important as a point guard is, a shooting guard is, a wing forward is, rebounding that basketball, controlling the paint, wins games, wins championships.”
Nwadike knows that last fact from experience. It was defense and rebounding that Nwadike credits for his team’s run through the NEC in 2007, something he knows Central will need to improve upon as it looks to repeat that feat this season.
Last year, Central was outrebounded in nearly every contest and gave up over 77 points a game, third-worst in the conference behind LIU-Brooklyn and Mount St. Mary’s.
And so it’s defense and rebounding that Nwadike, Dickenman and the rest of the coaching staff have been preaching in every practice all offseason.
“I know with our bigs we’ve got the talent,” Nwadike remarked before acknowledging, “we’re not rebounding as well as I’d like yet but I do see us making strides and getting better.”
It’s something that will come by studying the game film of every opponent and player they’re set to face, part of the preparation he’s been pushing on the players.
“With our guys it’s about understanding the opponent, understanding what you can do and understanding what they’re trying to do defensively and what we can do offensively,” explained Nwadike.
On Friday, Nwadike sat on the Central bench once again, at the CT6 Classic hosted at Quinnipiac University, as the Blue Devils prepared to face Fairfield to open the season. And like he has before every game, as both a player and even more so as a coach, he felt nervous.
“As a player I always felt I could do something about [the game] physically. If I had a bad first half I can do something about it,” he explained. “I can make a play, I can get a rebound, I can defend my man as tough as I could.”
“With coaching,” he adds, “all you can really do is see, visualize, point, tell and help. It’s tough because sometimes you see something but you can’t physically go out there and do it. So you hope the kid is understanding.”
Despite the nervousness he feels before each game and the challenges facing him, Dickenman and the rest of the team heading into the season, Nwadike is just glad to be back where he belongs.
“This is where I learned so much about basketball. I went here a young boy and I left here a man,” Nwadike said. “This place had a great impact on me. Not only on the basketball court. This place really felt like home.”