If you spend as much time as I have with the team in Las Vegas, you’re bound to see double. It just comes with the territory. The Strip has that kind of affect on people.
In my case it has nothing to do with late nights or any of the other trappings of the city founded on sin. It has everything to do with what’s going on, on the court. And no, I’m not talking about the Morri (aka the Morris brothers).
There is a member of the Summer Suns who has evoked memories of another former member of the franchise, one who now happens to be on the bench as a coach. That player is Arinze Onuaku, the D-League All-Star who played his college ball at Syracuse.
Onuaku has proven, like he has on every stop of his career, an uncanny ability to get the rebound as if he has a GPS in his brain programmed to find the loose ball. Through three game he has averaged 9.7 boards in under 18 minutes of play — the fifth best in Summer League — including two double-digit efforts. Along with his ability to clean the glass like a window washer, Arinze has a nose for easy buckets under the basket. He has the highest field goal percentage in Vegas and also had six perfect shooting games in college.
His passion and power — he once broke the backboard on a dunk during Syracuse’s Midnight Madness — have earned him a nickname that his teammates call him from the bench, “the Beast.”
Sound familiar? For lifelong Suns fans, it probably sounds reminiscent of the man they used to refer to as “Big Daddy”, big man Mark West.
West crashed the boards so hard he needed airbags to ensure his opponents’ safety. He averaged six rebounds a game in an average of 21 minutes on the court. On offense he was like clockwork. In his time in Phoenix he made 62.5 percent of his shots and is fourth all-time in field goal percentage over his 17-year career.
Despite a two-inch difference in height, with West being taller, the two have a similar build, bring the same effort and, at least in Summer League, sport the same number for the Suns. They’re all qualities who impress the Suns’ elder statesmen.
“He’s wearing a great number,” West said with a chuckle. “He’s doing really well. He’s attacking the boards on the offensive and defensive end. He has great feet defensively when we’re in our schemes as far as traps and pushing down on pick and roll defense. Overall he’s doing a great job.”
While Onuaku came in with a specific skillset he had learned over the years, he has taken the time to gain knowledge from the experience that West brings to the table.
“He played 17 years,” said Onuaku. “Every time he’s on the baseline during practice talking to me, I’m listening and trying to get every piece from him.”
What he’s learning: skills that make the difference between being a young guy with potential in the D-League and being a long time veteran in the NBA.
“Just the little things,” Onuaku said of what West has taught him so far. “Posting up early. Running the flooring. Positioning. Little things like that. I have a great body he keeps telling me so I’m able to get where I want on the floor. He’s just telling me the little things to get me over the top.”
And it’s paying off so far, as he’s impressed not only the coaching staff, but General Manager Ryan McDonough. He even caught the eye of Managing Partner Robert Sarver. The Syracuse alum also has impressed the man whose game he resembles.
“I’m enjoying watching him play,” West said. “He’s doing a great job. He’s doing the things to help us win when he’s not scoring.”
It’s those little things and desire that could take this undrafted kid, who has spent time in the D-League, to an NBA training camp. It’s the same kind of effort that made West an invaluable part of the Suns 1993 Finals run and a fan favorite. Onuaku realizes the value in it.
“The biggest thing is everyday I try to get better,” the big man said with confidence and determination. “They say when you work hard things will pan out. It’s been a great summer for me so far.”
If he keeps it up, fans may be seeing double when the team returns to the court in Phoenix. We’ll just have to wait and see if West gives up his No. 41 permanently.
The Monsoon Rolls In
Both Vegas and Phoenix are very similar. Both are located in the middle of a Valley in a desert. Both have similar weather climates and each city is known to have a monsoon or two.
That’s why it shouldn’t come as a surprise that when a team from Phoenix came to the city the Rat Pack helped make famous to play, the Monsoon followed.
You’re probably wondering why I capitalized the word monsoon that time. While, it’s because it’s a nickname Archie Goodwin is beginning to earn. The youngest born American player for this year’s draft lit up the Summer League in the team’s third game to the tune of 22 points and some thunderous dunks. He earned the nickname “The Monsoon” because he is becoming known for making it rain in July.
Maybe we’ll get lucky enough and see an unseasonable storm or two roll in come November.