Arizona Preps Q&A: Maya Nnaji

by Chris Monter | Posted on Saturday, August 21st, 2021

NBA scout and draft expert for many years, Chris Monter (Monter Draft News) has joined the Arizona Preps' staff, and recently hit the road on behalf of Arizona Preps to cover some of Arizona's top prospects. In the process, Monter covered and featured the Arizona travel programs in participation - interviewing their top prospects and evaluating their play during the competition.

As most Arizona natives know, Minnesota residents spend their winters in the Grand Canyon State more than any other state in the country. Many Minnesotans want to get away from the cold winters to enjoy the mild final months of the year in Arizona. That trend is also applying to the Nnaji family as Maya Nnaji, a 6-foot-4 senior forward from Hopkins (MN) High, who is ranked as #10 player in the country by ESPN, committed to the University of Arizona. Her older brother Zeke Nnaji was a standout for the Wildcats, and a first round draft pick by the Denver Nuggets in 2020. Maya might not be the last member of the Nnaji family to land in Tuscon. Her younger sister, Josie, who will be a ninth grader this year, already has a Wildcat offer. 

Nnaji is ranked as the top girls’ basketball player in Minnesota. She committed to Arizona in May, picking the Wildcats over Stanford, UCLA, Illinois and Maryland. Nnaji averaged a team-high 19.0 points per game this past season, scoring in double-figures in 12 of 13 games. She had six games of 20 or points, including a season-high 28 points versus Buffalo. Hopkins finished 16-1, losing to eventual State Champion, Chaska, 67-62, in the Class AAAA State Tournament Semi-finals. 

Nnaji averaged 19.1 points per game as a sophomore with a season-high of 30 points versus St. Michael-Albertville and Minnetonka. The Royals finished 30-0, but unfortunately, COVID-19 prevented them from playing in the Class AAAA title game.   

Arizona Preps caught up with Nnaji at the recent Pacesetter Sweet 16 Championship, where Hopkins won the title, to learn the latest on her commitment and upcoming senior season. 

Arizona Preps: How nice is it to get back to playing with your high school team after playing AAU in July?  

Maya Nnaji: It was awesome. My favorite team, so I always look forward to this time of year, getting back together. We are like a family, so it was super fun to be back and forth.  

Arizona Preps: How pleased were you with how well things went this AAU season?  

Maya Nnaji: I was really thankful for all the years of AAU that I had. I tried to end it off on a high note. All my coaches from Arizona were there, supporting me at the last game, so I was really grateful for the season and excited to get to what’s next.                                                    

Arizona Preps: You committed to Arizona a little while ago. Was that a little bit of weight off your shoulder once you got that done and didn’t have to worry about recruiting anymore? 

Maya Nnaji: Because of some of the homework from school, practice, I barely had time to take calls during the season, so it was kind of hard. I felt bad for all those coaches, but I already knew where I wanted to go at that point, so once I committed, I get to focus my time on who I’m really interested in. 

Arizona Preps: Did you like the recruiting process?     

Maya Nnaji: Oh, yes. It was such a blessing. I know not everyone gets to have those opportunities, so I’m super thankful for it and it allowed me to see so many different programs that I grew up watching.       

Arizona Preps: You also saw how it could get to be a little overwhelming at times? 

Maya Nnaji: For sure, but it was also a blessing as well, even though. I always try to stay thankful for everything I have, even though, sometimes it can be stressful. I know that it is a good type of stress.   

Arizona Preps: Obviously, you were familiar with the Arizona program because of Zeke. Is that something that appealed to you right away because had a familiarity with the campus a little bit? 

Maya Nnaji: I think the only advantage that Arizona had with my brother going there was that I went there. I visited. I saw the community. I got to go to a game, so I knew what the atmosphere was like. Especially with COVID and no visits allowed, so that was a really good thing for me, but other than that, everything else was just things that checked off my box that had really nothing to do with my brother. It just happened to work out. 

Arizona Preps: Was it nice to have that decision done with and you can just focus on your senior season?   

Maya Nnaji: Yes, for sure. I’m really excited to go into this season with a focused mindset and just be ready to dominate with my team. 

Arizona Preps: You had an outstanding season last year. Came up a little short against Chaska. Is that kind of a motivating factor to get back to the state title game and hopefully, win it all.   

Maya Nnaji: For sure. Every workout. Every practice. Every time we are in the gym. Every play in the game, that is what I am thinking about. That is my motivation. That is why we work hard. That is why I go so hard. That is why I train like two, three times a day, because we fell short and we are not going to fall short this year. We are going to work even harder and get back to our position. 

Arizona Preps: Arizona had a great season this past year and surprised some people by making it to the national championship game. Was kind of fun to watch them through your eyes. You are not part of the team yet, but you are going to be. 

Maya Nnaji: Yes, I was cheering them for them so hard that game. At that point, I hadn’t committed yet, but it was kind of the icing on the cake. I already knew that this was my school. I can totally see myself playing for this program. Playing in front of those fans. Playing with those girls. Playing for Coach Adia (Barnes). Watching that game, got me a little more excited.   

Arizona Preps: Was that tough, because they came so close to winning it?  

Maya Nnaji: It was hard. I felt really bad for them, but they played really hard. They were underdogs, so they actually overachieved in other people’s eyes.  

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