That’s as simple as it gets when describing David Nwaba, said Coby Karl, head coach of the Los Angeles D-Fenders.
Nwaba hung up his Cal Poly Mustangs jersey in exchange for one from the D-Fenders, the minor league affiliate of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Karl already named Nwaba the best defender in the NBA Development League, indicating his potential to one day play in the NBA.
As a child, the NBA wasn’t in Nwaba’s sights.
Basketball: Not always part of the plan
He loved watching it; Kobe Bryant was someone he looked up to. It was great to shoot hoops during lunch, but it wasn’t ever a serious game. It wasn’t until his junior year of high school when he was the leading scorer of the varsity team that Nwaba recognized his potential.
Out of high school, Nwaba redshirted at Hawaii Pacific University, a Division II school. He decided that he had an opportunity to grow as a player and headed home and played at Santa Monica College for a year. He made the most of that year, earning conference and MVP honors along with attention from Cal Poly.
Cal Poly is where Nwaba blossomed, coach Joe Callero said. Nwaba capped his career as a Mustang by making the 2016 All-Big West Conference team as an Honorable Mention. He also ranked 15th in program history with 465 rebounds and was one of 23 players to score more than 1,000 career points.
“He worked so hard during his three years at Cal Poly,” Callero said. “He kept improving his skill and led us in points, steals, rebounds and assists his senior year.”
Life after college
With a Cal Poly sociology degree in hand, Nwaba planned to play professionally overseas. But when he got the chance to play at the Los Angeles and Las Vegas showcases for the NBA, he took it. After getting invited to a tryout with the Reno Bighorns, the minor league affiliate of the Sacramento Kings, Nwaba changed his plans and set his sights on the D-Fenders.
The D-Fenders took an interest in Nwaba, but were under the impression that they could not have him because he was an honorable mention. There was some miscommunication regarding his eligibility but, in the end, they made a trade for Nwaba during the D-League draft, Karl said.
Los Angeles D-Fenders
Playing for the Los Angeles D-Fenders offered Nwaba a chance to return to his hometown, Los Angeles. Once he came home, Nwaba had to make the adjustment from college basketball to the faster, more scoring intensive, transition-based minor league game.
Despite his prodigious athleticism and large frame, Nwaba still has areas to improve.
“The most, of course, shooting,” Nwaba said. “I really want to develop my three-point shot.”
He’s spent his career staying inside the arc and driving to the paint, and still instinctively drives to the basket.
“It’s tough; I still have it in my head to go straight to the basket and score,” Nwaba said. “But I really just need to build confidence in myself and get rid of the negative energy.”
Nwaba understands that he needs to have more faith in himself in order to improve his shooting. His coach and teammates have been helping him with this. One of his teammates, guard Vander Blue, is a top D-League prospect to go to the NBA.
“When I compete against him during practice and I feel like I learned a lot and really improved my defense. I am glad to be by his side and play against him,” Nwaba said.
While Nwaba has only been with the D-Fenders for a few months, his improvement has not gone unnoticed, especially by Karl.
“With his shooting, he has shown more confidence in his shot,” Karl said. “You can tell that he is working really hard at it.”
Nwaba was the bench man to come in for Blue, but recently has been included in the starting lineup.
“He has been in the starting lineup the last couple of games,” Karl said. “One of the main reasons was because we needed our defense to improve and we were able to play him on the other team’s best player.”
Despite having areas to improve, Nwaba is still considered the best defender in the league. Just as he did with the Mustangs, Nwaba guards the opponent’s best player. His comfort level on the team and in the league increased as the season progressed and he plans to continue playing for the D-Fenders next year.
“I initially planned on going overseas but at the moment, it’s not about pursuing money,” Nwaba said. “I think this is the best place to improve my game so I plan on staying.”
With a potential NBA career on the horizon, Nwaba is focused on developing his game further and understands it takes some time.
“I’m just enjoying the ride,” Nwaba said. “For the most part, I feel like this is the place to be; close to home, surrounded by talent with a great coaching staff.”