Talk hoops all year long in Luke Winn's blog, a journal of commentary, news and reader-driven discussions about the college game.
1/22/2007 11:08:00 AM
Blog Q&A With ... Air Force's Dan Nwaelele
Dan Nwaelele scored 11 points in Saturday's win over San Diego State to help drive the Falcons' record to 18-2 on the season.
As part of a series of Blog Q&As, I chatted with Air Force marksman Dan Nwaelele (pronounced Wah-LAY-lay) late last week. The senior wingman, who is averaging 15.2 points in Air Force's hybrid-Princeton offense -- the equivalent of averaging 19.1 at North Carolina -- is shooting 51.1 percent from long distance. We spoke while Dan was on a bus back to the Academy following a loss to Utah, only the Falcons' second this season. They're currently 18-2 and 5-1 in the Mountain West.
Luke Winn: Can you tell us about coach Jeff Bzdelik's Motown jones? We've heard that he's playing Motown music during your practices ...
Dan Nwaelele: He does -- he puts it on every once in a while at the beginning of practice. It's mostly the Temptations that he has going. It's kind of chill, and everybody enjoys the music. It sets a good mood for practice, but I haven't caught anybody dancing.
LW: Bzdelik was quoted as saying that shooting was about rhythm, and music might help the rhythm. Seeing that you're the Falcons' most accurate gunner right now, what would your your ultimate shooting-rhythm music be?
DN: I'm not sure. I usually shoot with no music at all. But [the ultimate] would just be something with a little beat to it -- hip-hop or rap, probably.
[Someone is yelling "country" next to Nwaelele on the bus at this point.]
LW: Who's saying country music?
DN: That would be [Falcons forward] Jake Burtschi [from Chickasha, Okla.]. He's after me about country music. He tries to get everybody on the team to listen the country songs he's playing. I don't even know any country artists. I try not to listen to them.
LW: You've kept country off your iPod, then.
DN: I'm probably like the only player on the team that doesn't have an iPod.
LW: You're shooting extremely high percentages this year for a perimeter player -- 58.1 from the field, 51.1 from three. How did you develop such an accurate shot?
DN: When I was young, I tried to watch a lot of NBA games. I tried to look at players that I liked, like Michael Jordan, Anfernee Hardaway and Grant Hill. And I tried to emulate how they shot and how they played. I haven't always been a great shooter and tried to work hard at it. I get up as many shots as I can, after practice and out of season.
LW: Your country teammate, Burtschi, recently said he had heard Air Force's offense called "Princeton on steroids." How would you describe it?
DN: I'd say it's like the Princeton offense with a little bit of leeway. We're not running it down to the end of the shot clock like we did with coach [Joe] Scott and coach [Chris] Mooney [who left to take the Princeton job in 2005]. If we have an open shot, coach has the confidence in us to take it. So that's the leeway.
LW: So it's safe to say you like it better than the orthodox Princeton offense you used before Bzdelik arrived ...
DN: I like it a lot better -- It's definitely a much more fun version.
LW: You're listed as part of an "inspections team" at the academy. What does that entail?
DN: I was on it last semester. I was a replacement for anyone who couldn't do the inspections -- so I didn't have to do anything. We have inspections of [cadets'] rooms and uniforms, and you go around and grade the room or the person with the uniform on. I was trained to do it, but I didn't end up having to.
LW: What's your real duty, then?
DN: I was like an athletic clerk, or an athletic non-com officer. Now I'm athletic officer of my squadron. There's a physical test you have to take, year-round, stuff like push-ups, sit-ups, standing long jump, and a 600-yard run. We're not exempt from it as athletes, either. I also have to coordinate with everyone and make sure they're doing things like playing intramurals.
LW: I've been asking a few players this question lately: If you had to pick a "dream" college team that included you and four other players -- but no one else from Air Force -- whom would you pick? Take positions, including yours, into consideration.
DN: Well, first, I like that Kevin Durant kid at small forward. He's got the whole package, and can score in so many different ways. Then Greg Oden -- he's a grown man already. He looks like he's 40 years old, but he's just 18, right? At power forward I like the big, strong dude from Florida, Al Horford. He's solid. I'll take the two spot, so I still need a point guard. I guess I'll go with another Florida guy -- Taurean Green.
LW: Would anyone at Air Force be allowed to grow a beard like Oden has?
DN: Not one that big. You can get a shaving waiver. If you have one you don't have to shave every day, but you have to get the waiver from a doctor, for something like ingrown hairs in your neck.
LW: I'm assuming, given the spelling of your name, that you get some rough pronunciations from public-address announcers. What's the worst one you've heard?
DN: I'm almost to the point where I don't even notice it, or hear what they say; when they announce my name I know it's my name and leave it at that. But the worst ... probably something like Nah-wheelie.
LW: Can you explain the heritage of your name?
DN: It's Nigerian. My parents -- who now live in Bothell, Wash. -- were born in Nigeria, and came to the U.S. when they were 18 or 19. I went to Nigeria once, when I was 5, but I can barely remember it.
DN: What I did remember, just now, is another shooter I liked. My favorite, actually.
LW: And who's that?
DN:Ray Allen. I just like the way he gets his shot off. It's such a nice, quick release. It's the purest form I've ever seen. I'd like my shot to be that smooth.