"Ever since 4th grade I have had the dream of playing professional basketball in the NBA. After consulting with my family and praying about it, we have submitted the required paperwork to the league office. I'm officially making myself available for the draft," Nnaji told ESPN in an email.
Nnaji, the No. 34 prospect in the ESPN Top 100, emerged as one of the top big men in college basketball while earning Pac-12 Freshman of the Year and All-Pac-12 first-team honors.
The 7-footer averaged 16.1 points and 8.6 rebounds per game for the Wildcats, establishing himself as one of the hardest-playing big men in the country and vastly exceeding early expectations thanks to his agility, soft touch and efficient style of play.
"It still feels like I'm dreaming because I have never heard of anything like this pandemic happening," Nnaji told ESPN. "Now I'm back at home in Minnesota. I just started doing some light workouts, and I'll continue to ramp things up in the coming weeks. Every now and again, I still go back mentally to Wednesday, March 11th, going through my process of getting ready to play USC before the season was canceled. Now it's time to move forward to the next level, so I'm doing everything possible to maximize this process.
"This is all new to me but I have continued to pray for all the health workers on the front line of this pandemic," Nnaji added. "I can't imagine what their families are going through. I'm continuing to take precautions and do my part through social distancing, but I'm also finding ways to get my work in as much as possible."
Nnaji was an unheralded recruit who emerged later in his high school career playing on a loaded D1 Minnesota AAU team on the Adidas Gauntlet circuit alongside Duke-bound power forward Matthew Hurt and Stanford point guard Tyrell Terry. He was the No. 48-ranked recruit in the ESPN 100 entering college but quickly emerged as a potential first-round pick with a series of strong performances in November. He shot 59% from 2-point range and 76% from the free throw line on the season, making enough jumpers to leave room for optimism for how his shooting range will evolve over time. The son of a Nigerian immigrant, Nnaji's work ethic and off-court intangibles are often praised and will likely work in his favor in a draft process currently mired in uncertainty.
The NBA draft is scheduled for June 25, but following worldwide suspensions of basketball activities amid the coronavirus pandemic, NBA front-office executives and others in the industry told ESPN they are bracing for the potential impact of a delayed 2020 draft with a heavily reduced pre-draft process.
"Certainly my expectations did change with this lack of certainty in the process," Nnaji told ESPN. "However, I always look on the bright side and this could give me the ability to get more work in if the draft is delayed. Whatever the process looks like, I will definitely be ready.
"My preparation will consist of an assortment of drills and workouts to work on skill development and continuing to get stronger," Nnaji added. "I feel good about the year I had at Arizona and I'm continuing to work on some of the things I wasn't asked to do as much at Arizona, such as 3-point shooting. I won the 3-point contest at the Iverson Classic in high school and I think I'm still underrated as a perimeter shooter. I only took a few 3s this year but I made a few of them and I was almost 80% from the line too. My shot feels really good so I believe I will surprise people with my shooting ability throughout this process. I'm also doing my schoolwork online so I can finish this semester on a high note."