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Rick Pitino expects Chinanu Onuaku to stay in the NBA Draft

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Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Chinanu Onuaku has eight days to decide whether he wants to keep his name in the 2016 NBA Draft or return to Louisville for his junior season. U of L coach Rick Pitino doesn't think he needs that much time to know what his big man is going to do.

"Nanu's desire has been to go forth 100 percent and try and go to the league this year," Pitino told the Courier-Journal. "That's been his family's and his mindset. I'm behind it 100 percent, and our staff is, too. From the day he left school (to begin preparing for the combine), I'd resigned myself saying he was going. Everything I've been planning is that he's staying in the draft."

Onuaku performed admirably at last week's NBA Draft combine, and was named by USA Today as one of the five players at the event who most improved his draft stock. Still, the 6'10 center's name doesn't appear in the first round of any major mock draft, and even if he performs well in individual workouts over the next week, it's unlikely that he'll receive a guarantee that he'll be one of the first 30 players drafted.

As a sophomore in 2014-15, Onuaku averaged 9.9 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. He posted 11 double-doubles and was named to the ACC's All-Defensive Team and was an honorable mention all-conference performer. Still, Pitino thinks his team will be just fine even if it doesn't return its starting center from a season ago.

"I don't think it's going to alter our team's strength," Pitino said. "We have four centers. So, on one hand, our chemistry will be at an all-time high because everybody feels they'll play. Mangok will be backed up by Anas and Matz, and they'll all compete."

Pitino also told the C-J that Onuaku will have minor heart surgery on Tuesday which shouldn't affect any of his scheduled workouts and "will have no bearing" on his decision whether or not to stay in the draft.

The only situation comparable situation I can think of here is Earl Clark in 2008, when all signs pointed to Clark staying in the draft and Pitino actually stated publicly that E5 was "definitely" gone. He ended up choosing to return for his junior season at the 11th hour. Whether or not history repeats itself here, we'll find out soon.

Update: Here's a brief statement from U of L and Nanu on his procedure today.

It's hard not to notice that Nanu is talking about returning to the pursuit of his NBA dreams after "7 to 10 days" on the sidelines when the deadline to make a decision is just eight days away.