How 4-star Arizona Basketball center commit Emmanuel Stephen fits into the 2024-25 equation

The "other half" of Arizona's incoming freshman class will have to overcome more competition, but the Wildcats may have another Christian Koloko on their hands.
Arizona State v Arizona
Arizona State v Arizona / Ethan Miller/GettyImages

Arizona Basketball's 2024 recruiting class slimmed down significantly over the last two weeks, with both Joson Sanon and Jamari Phillips announcing intentions to play for other former Pac-12 schools in ASU and Oregon, respectively.

We've already talked about Carter Bryant's projected role with the Wildcats, but incoming four-star center commit Emmanuel Stephen doesn't get nearly the love he deserves — likely because he was teammates with Phillips at Dream City Christian School, who plays a flashier position.

Standing just under 7 feet tall and weighing in at 215 pounds, his physical profile is identical to that of Arizona alum Christian Koloko's when he arrived in Tucson as a freshman. He needs to add more mass to his frame, but he could be a game-breaker if he reaches the weight Koloko left Arizona with (230 pounds).

How high on the depth chart will Stephen be?

The in-state prospect likely won't see much playing time early in the season. Arizona head coach Tommy Lloyd utilizes his transfers, and incoming Tennessee transfer Tobe Awaka will likely win the backup center job behind Motiejus Krivas initially. This would plant Stephen third in line for playing time as the big man in the middle.

Awaka has the mass to avoid getting thrown around, while Stephen will need at least a few months of a collegiate workout regimen to get up to a workable size. One key area where Stephen excels, though, is with his length. Compared to the 6-foot-8 Awaka, Stephen stands four inches taller and has a demonstrably larger wingspan.

Krivas, though promising, is not guaranteed to develop into the unquestioned starter. If he doesn't improve significantly by the midway point in the season, Lloyd may opt for a "center by committee" approach and roll out all three in rotation. This would give Stephen the opportunity to pounce on the open role and make it his for years to come.

What gives Stephen a higher floor than Awaka?

To put it bluntly, you can't coach someone into being 7 feet tall. Stephen uses his length effectively, reliably disrupting shooting lanes, snatching up blocks, and attacking the rim for heavy-handed dunks. His clear defensive advantage over Awaka will likely earn Stephen more playing time as the season goes on.

Furthermore, Lloyd has been successful with players of Stephen's background. Despite only being through three seasons with the Wildcats, Lloyd already has a wildly successful reputation for developing African-born centers in the Cameroonian Koloko and Malian-born Oumar Ballo, who blossomed into stars under the Arizona coaching staff.

Between fitting the mold for a player type that Lloyd's staff has used in the past, his defensive upside, and especially his youth, Stephen will likely win out the battle for the backup center by the end of the season. Get ready, because Arizona could soon be working with its own Nigerian Nightmare.

ICYMI. CB. How 4-star Carter Bryant fits into the 2024-25 equation. dark

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