In college basketball, athletic seven-footers are hard to come by.
“Usually their last name is Plumlee and they’re all on Duke’s team,” joked UC head coach Mick Cronin.
Mick wasn’t able to sign Miles, Mason, or Marshall Plumlee, but for the next two years, 7’1″ 230-pound David Nyarsuk will play for the Cincinnati Bearcats.
Nyarsuk spent the last two seasons playing for NAIA powerhouse Mountain State University in Beckley, WV, but the school was stripped of its accreditation by the Higher Learning Commission in mid-July.
“We would have been ranked preseason number one in all of the polls,” said former Mountain State head coach Bob Bolen. “We had 10 players returning from a Final Four team and we signed four players that were ready to come in and play. David wasn’t planning on leaving until all of this happened.”
When the word got out that Nyarsuk was available for this season, Division I coaches swooped in.
“I got over 450 calls in 96 hours,” Bolen told me in a recent interview on 700 WLW. “A lot of the calls were about Dave and a 6’9″ kid who was a Third Team All-American. That’s who the majority of the calls were about. They would start at seven in the morning about Dave. I only made one call for Dave and I called Bob Huggins, who is a really good friend of mine, to see if he needed him or had any scholarships available and he didn’t. From that point, Cincinnati jumped in there quickly and I think it’s a good decision for him.”
As it turned out, UC assistant coach Larry Davis had a relationship with one of Nyarsuk’s high school coaches.
“Larry Davis was on top of it and did a great job and there was a trust level there,” said Coach Cronin. “I think that what probably separated us from other people was that we told David and his coach that we wanted him. I think a lot of people were inquiring about David and from the first time that we spoke to him, we told him that we wanted him, we needed him, and we were willing to take him that day.
“We got out in front of it and beat some people to the punch and sometimes you’re first in line and sometimes you’re not. On this one, Larry Davis did a great job.”
In two years at Mountain State, Nyarsuk averaged 10.2 points, 8 rebounds, and 2.8 blocks, helping the Cougars go 59-15.
“He changes the game on the defensive end,” said Bolen. “He’s a great shot blocker, runs the floor well, and is a lot stronger than he looks. He has skinny legs, but he has a lot of fight in him. I had calls from schools in the ACC, Big East, Big 10 – I had calls from about everywhere for him. His offensive game has improved tremendously over the past two years and I think he’s a great addition for Cincinnati.”
“I think David is definitely going to be able to help us,” said Cronin. “He has played college basketball for two years and he’s played at the highest level of NAIA which is better than junior college basketball. He’s got a chance to help us right away – how much I don’t know yet because I haven’t had a chance to get him out there. I can tell you that we’re excited to have him.”
Nyarsuk was ranked as the 19th-best center in the 2010 recruiting class and originally signed with West Virginia. However, the native of Juba, Sudan was still learning English at the time and failed to reach the required test scores. David has been cleared to play immediately at Cincinnati by the NCAA.
“(His English) is a lot better than it was two years ago,” said Bolen. “He barely missed on the SAT score and he’s a great student and very conscientious. He’s a great kid, he’s a Christian, and they can’t get a better kid.”
Following the departure of 6’9″ senior Yancy Gates, Nyarsuk joins 6’10 Cheikh Mbodj and 6’10” Kelvin Gaines to give the Bearcats three centers on this year’s roster.
“It definitely adds to our depth if David is able to come in and help us the way that we think he can,” said Coach Cronin. “Cheikh Mbodj is a guy that’s going to get some fouls with the way that we want to play – playing pressure defense and being a shot-blocker. He looks great right now, but he’s going to get fouls. Kelvin Gaines has been a work in progress and this buys him some time to get more ready to play since he’s only a sophomore. Our biggest question mark was if we had enough at the five spot, and David definitely helps us solve that problem.”
The jump from NAIA basketball to the Big East is obviously steep, but Nyarsuk’s former coach says that he can handle it.
“He’s ready,” said Coach Bolen. “We only had one Division I game last year and that was against Morehead State and we beat ’em by 15 and he dominated the game. He’ll surprise a lot of people because he’s ready to play at that level.”
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