ST. BONAVENTURE — It’s the one thing he wants to improve upon most heading into next season. And, ironically, it’s the very aspect he’s been unable to work on during this drastically different offseason.
Despite being limited by injuries, Osun Osunniyi made significant strides as a sophomore, bumping his scoring average from eight to 11 points while still hovering around eight rebounds and 2.5 blocks and increasing his field goal percentage from 57.1 to 61.5, good for second-best in the Atlantic 10.
The 6-foot-10 center very nearly reached his preseason goal of averaging a double-double. He continued in his role as one of the best defensive players in the conference. Where his growth stalled, however, was his ability to score from outside the block.
Osunniyi has been “trying to stay in shape as best I can,” from working out with teammates over Zoom, to “running around my neighborhood.” But, due to COVID-19-related restrictions, he hasn’t been able to get into a gym and shoot — to work on that next stage of his development: knocking down those 10- to 15-foot jumpers with more consistency.
As he nears a return to campus — and the eventual unfettered access to the Reilly Center — that will be priority No. 1.
“Just trying to step out more,” he said, when asked about his individual goals for next season during a guest appearance on the “SBUnfurled and Friends” podcast last week, “trying not to just be inside in the post as much, trying to step out and be able to shoot a jump shot, or at least consistently make a jump shot this coming year.
“That’s kind of my plan … but at the same time, putting on weight and just developing my game all around.”
IN A nearly half-hour-long guest spot, ‘Shoon was his typically spirited self, touching on an array of topics, Bona hoops-related or other.
At times, he was serious, providing his thoughts on the racial and social unrest that has enveloped the nation over the last month. Most of the time, though, the conversation was light-hearted.
The rising junior center said his ideal RC meal consists of six chicken tenders, a chicken philly sandwich and fries. He revealed that the player who razzes coach Mark Schmidt the most, surprisingly, is point guard Kyle Lofton, who evidently has a playful side that belies his unassuming nature.
He also addressed what it was like to be involved with the program’s celebrated 100th anniversary season. His favorite part? When he and his teammates got to meet the 1970 Final Four team the night before the Hofstra game.
“That whole experience, just being able to sit down with those guys and hear their conversations, hear them talk, hear them joke around around with each other, it was a humbling experience because they went out there and they played together and they did whatever they had to do,” he said, “and hearing how they stayed together and the advice they gave us on what we should do to be able to reach (that point), it was really humbling to just be in their presence and be able to talk to them.”
OSUNNIYI acknowledged that it was an “up-and-down” season for him due to the injuries (he missed four games after injuring his knee in the season-opener against Ohio and another three in conference play due to a concussion).
And even after returning from his initial setback in late-November, he very rarely felt 100 percent.
“There were a lot of days where I felt like the (big brace on his right knee) was irritating,” said Osunniyi, whose injuries came after he had just recovered from surgery to repair a partially torn labrum in the offseason. “Then there were others where I didn’t feel it and it would be perfectly fine.”
The Pleasantville, N.J., native knows there’s still plenty of room for improvement offensively. Through his first two seasons, his points have come almost exclusively on easy dunks and putbacks (additionally, his free throw percentage dipped as a sophomore, from 66.7 to 57.6).
Mostly, though, he’s hoping for a junior year at full health.
“I’m happy and lucky it wasn’t a crazy injury where I was out for the entire year,” he said, “but the whole process now is to just try to get back and have an injury-free season.” Of his current status, he added: “I’m better. I’ve been doing rebab with my workouts, trying to keep the knee 100 percent and keep the shoulder from ever having any problems anymore. My trainer’s been doing an amazing job of giving me exercises, so I’m keeping the body in the best shape that I can.”
OSUNNIYI said that when joking around with Schmidt, “you have to pick your moments.”
Typically, those come during team dinners the night before a game, when the 13th-year coach is at his most relaxed.
But for as much as he might tease Schmidt about his mannerisms during games, the junior center considers himself lucky to be playing for the Bona boss. He’s well aware of Schmidt’s track record for player development, particularly with big men (Andrew Nicholson and Youssou Ndoye have both donned NBA jerseys within the last five years), and hopes to follow a similar path.
“He’s always talking to me and telling me things that I have to do when, if I want to play professional, I have to do this, that and the third,” said Osunniyi, who was named to both the All-Conference Third Team and All-Defensive Team as a sophomore. “He’s really helped me out a lot, and everything that he’s said, I’m always listening, I’m always trying to learn from him. Whatever he has to tell me, I’m taking it in and just going from that — just trying to be a student of the game …
“(Just) listen to what he has to say, because he’s been in the game longer than I have, so whatever he tells me, I’m taking it and using it the best I can.”