Columns & Blogs

Stampede all-star center Eric Chenowith appears to be closing in on an NBA call-up

Since he's 7-foot-1, Idaho Stampede center Eric Chenowith is able to reach a lot of things that most of us can't touch.

But there is something that has eluded his grasp for several years — a chance to play in the NBA. His strong play for Idaho this season may change that, however.

Chenowith, who pulled down 29 rebounds in Sioux Falls on Dec. 29, leads the CBA in rebounding average at 14.2 rebounds per game. He is also scoring 13.2 points per game and has played more minutes than any other Stampede player this season.

When scouts look at those numbers, his size and the fact that his footwork has improved, it would seem it's only a matter of time before he gets his shot in the NBA.

At least one NBA scout would agree.

"I'll be shocked if he doesn't get called up," said Bill Branch, a scout for the Denver Nuggets. "If he goes through the whole season without a call-up, I'll be shocked."

Chenowith will get a chance to show off his improved play in front of scouts from almost every NBA team tonight when he suits up to play for the Western Conference in the 22nd annual CBA All-Star Classic. The pregame ceremonies begin at 6 p.m. with the slam-dunk contest, which is followed by the long-distance shootout at 6:30 p.m. The game begins at 7:15 p.m. (640 AM (KFXD).

It could be argued that Chenowith has largely underachieved since his four years at Kansas, where he left as the No. 2 shot blocker in school history and was top five in rebounding. Since being drafted by the New York Knicks in the second round of the 2001 NBA Draft, he's banged with Shaquille O'Neal in a Lakers training camp and was among the Denver Nuggets' final cuts before this season. But he has also bounced around between teams in the NBDL and the ABA.

Chenowith rededicated himself before joining the Stampede this season, and his work is paying off, said Brad Ames, an agent with Priority Sports, the Chicago firm that represents Chenowith.

Ames said Chenowith's relationship with Stampede coach Joe Wolf has been instrumental in the center's progress.

"Coach Wolf has been a perfect coach for him," Ames said. "He's a player's coach ... and I think he's really had a great effect on Eric."

Chenowith agrees wholeheartedly.

"More than anything, (Wolf) has helped me with my confidence," Chenowith said. "Because when he leaves me on the court for a long time, that shows me that he believes that I can get the job done. By him playing me a lot, that's the ultimate compliment from him."

Ames said those minutes on the court have shown scouts that Chenowith is capable of running the floor and withstanding the beating of playing in a lot of games.

"He's always going to be of interest because of his size, and with the opportunity he's getting there teams are following him more closely," Ames said. "Hopefully, we'll be able to capitalize on that in the next few weeks."

That would show Chenowith that his hard work has paid off.

"I think the ultimate judgment of how I'm playing is whether I get called up (to the NBA) or not," Chenowith said.

Wolf said he is prepared for the call to come in the second half of the season.

"I wouldn't be surprised," Wolf said. "He's shown he's a big body that can rebound."

Chenowith said Wolf has helped him with every aspect of his game.

"He's taught me little tricks to do in the post," Chenowith said. "Offensively, he's taught me how to use my size. ... It's too much to mention, but every little thing with my game he's helped me improve upon."

Wolf said his student has responded well to his teaching.

"I think there's been big-time improvement," Wolf said. " I think the ability to play 38, 40 minutes a game at this level is something a lot of people questioned. He's done that, and done a nice job with that, and was voted an all-star ... and I think people are now talking about him because they didn't expect that of him."

Chenowith's time with the Stampede hasn't been all about work. He said he has enjoyed exploring the Boise area and recently went snowmobiling in Idaho City with his cousin.

Don't expect to see his 7-foot-1 frame up at Bogus Basin, though. He said skiing and snowboarding are going to have to wait until his basketball career is over.

"I have about a dozen friends back home that are really good snowboarders, and about 10 of the 12 of them have blown out their ACL or done something. So I don't even want to mess with it."

As far as fun goes, Chenowith said it would be hard to top tonight's all-star game.

"My parents are going to be here," Chenowith said. "I think it's going to be a great day. I'm going to go out and have fun, but I've also got to show guys that I can play, and I can play the right way."

That shouldn't be a problem. He's been doing that for the Stampede all season.