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Innocent Nwoko transfers to Division II Saginaw Valley State, wants more playing time


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Central Michigan center Innocent Nwoko stretches before playing Buffalo in the 2018 Mid-American Conference Tournament on March 8 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio.

Innocent Nwoko is making the move from Division I to Division II after three seasons for the Central Michigan men's basketball team.

The 6-foot-11, 235-pound center announced he will join Saginaw Valley State for the 2019-20 season with two years of eligibility remaining.

Nwoko, a native of Lagos, Nigeria, entered the 2018-19 season with the possibility of starting underneath the net. However, he lost the position battle to NJCAA transfer Rob Montgomery.

"I liked it at CMU," Nwoko said. "Everything was great other than not getting playing time. I want to play basketball after college. To do that, I need to play in a game. 30 seconds of playing time is never going to get me anywhere, and I got tired of it."

The former New Haven High School star announced his intent to transfer on March 28.

Coach Keno Davis didn't tell Nwoko to transfer or stay with the program. As a matter of fact, Nwoko said the two never talked before or after he was granted his release from the program.

Why didn't they talk?

Nwoko said Davis lost all interest in him, even during last season.

"It's obvious I wasn't going to play next season, so what's the point of staying?" he said. "(Davis) stopped showing interest in me."

There's a little bit of a back story that Nwoko wants people to know about that caused him to transfer from the program, and it revolves around not speaking to Davis.

As a normal end of the season ritual, Davis speaks with every member of the basketball team, Nwoko said. Even two weeks after the campaign ended with a 100-86 loss to DePaul in the College Basketball Invitation, Nwoko said he still hadn't heard from Davis.

"I’m pretty sure he talked to almost everyone on the team, but not me," Nwoko said. "This is my third year on the team, tell me why I have to be the last person he will talk to? But he still didn’t talk to me."

Nwoko said Davis then sent two assistant coaches and Director of Basketball Operations DJ Mocini to speak with him about his choice to transfer or stay at the university.

But Nwoko wanted to speak to Davis directly about the situation, but he was told his coach was out of town. 

So, he waited until Davis was back in Mount Pleasant.

"I wanted to hear what he would say," Nwoko said. "Also, I thought it'd be helpful if I told him that I wanted to leave to show him respect and thank him for the opportunity."

However, Nwoko couldn't wait for Davis to return. He said members of Davis' staff continuously sent text messages and phone calls, saying, “Keno wants to know what your plans are, are you for sure leaving or staying?"

Nwoko was offended.

"It’s my decision to make, and I have to the right to do it whenever I want," he said. 

It came to the point where an assistant coach and Mocini wanted to take Nwoko to compliance to get his release, he said.

When Nwoko arrived at compliance, the CMU Athletics employee was waiting for him with his paperwork ready to sign. Nwoko remembers her saying that Davis called to make sure they would have the paperwork prepared.

Nwoko and Davis haven't spoken to this day.

"For him, not talking to me in person or on the phone, but telling his assistant to talk to me and calling the compliance office before I even get there just shows me that he doesn't have interest in me anymore," Nwoko said.

"So, I signed my release at the compliance office there."

When Nwoko opened his recruitment back up as a transfer, he said he got about 10 offers from schools at the Division I, Division II and Division III levels. He said he went with his favorite Division II program because he didn't want to sit out a year due to NCAA transfer rules for going to another Division I.

"They all loved me and wanted me on the team," Nwoko said. "I am grateful for these opportunities, and I’m excited to start the new chapter. The coaches (at SVSU) care about the players more than basketball, and it’s a great area for me."

He played in just 20 games last year, averaging 1.4 points and 1.4 rebounds in 5.3 minutes per contest for the Chippewas.

"Even before the season ended, both the players and the coaches knew that I was going to leave," Nwoko said. "The opportunity of going further after college is not at CMU, and I didn't fit in the program anyway. I'm sad to leave them, but at the same time, I'm not because everything happens for a reason."

Nwoko entered his collegiate career by taking a redshirt in the 2016-17 season. He took the court for the first time in 2017-18 and participated in 28 games. As a redshirt freshman, Nwoko averaged 0.7 points and 0.6 rebounds per game.

Before coming to CMU, Nwoko was the leader of New Haven's basketball team. He helped the Rockets earn a 25-1 record during his senior season, recording league, district and regional championships.

He was named All-Macomb Area Conference First Team and a Macomb County All-Star. Nwoko was also named a team captain as a junior. He earned two varsity letters in both basketball and soccer, a game he also enjoys dating back to when he lived in Nigeria.

Montgomery, in his lone season for CMU under coach Keno Davis, started 31 of 32 games. He posted 10.8 points, 5.7 rebounds and 28 minutes per contest. He will return to the team for the 2019-20 season as the expected starter at center.

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