By Joel Silverberg / @JoelSilverberg
Note: The full interview with Sacred Heart men’s basketball coach Anthony Latina is available on the April 2 edition of the Behind the Arc Podcast. You can subscribe to Behind the Arc here.
Tennessee’s frontcourt added some depth on Friday with Sacred Heart graduate transfer E.J. Anosike announcing his commitment to the Volunteers. Anosike averaged 15.7 points and 11.6 rebounds per game for the Pioneers last season and will be immediately eligible in 2020.
Anosike chose Tennessee over the likes of Gonzaga, Louisville and Georgetown. Three and a half years ago he committed to Sacred Heart over Coppin State, Niagara and Vermont. He took an unofficial visit to Rutgers, but had no major conference offers before opting for head coach Anthony Latina and Sacred Heart.
Latina, who spoke to WNML hours after Anosike’s announcement on Friday, spoke highly of his now-former player’s work ethic, motor and physicality.
“E.J. is an elite worker. Elite. In my 25 years of coaching college basketball he’s probably the hardest worker I’ve ever coached in terms of the things that E.J. is willing to sacrifice to be a great player,” Latina said. “He’s always in the gym. If we had a 7 o’clock lift, which we did all summer, he’d be in the gym by 5:45 for a full basketball workout before the lift. He was the kid that was willing to sacrifice things that most kids don’t—like going to bed early, you know, really having a disciplined lifestyle, a disciplined view of how to become the best player he could be.”
Sounds like a perfect fit for Rick Barnes and Tennessee.
The younger brother of former Lady Vol Nicky Anosike, E.J. was sixth in the nation in rebounding and fourth in offensive rebounds with more than four per game. The 6-foot-6, 245-pound forward is a big frame that’s tough to move. He can pass well from the post and draws attention inside, allowing him to find open shooters on the perimeter.
“Rebounding is his biggest strength partially because of his motor, his physicality and his desire. He will get rebounds on both ends,” Latina said. “He’ll go after every rebound. If the minutes are there I’d be very surprised if you don’t see him being one of the better rebounders on the team, if not in the SEC.”
Latina, who has been at Sacred Heart for 15 years—the last seven as head coach—said he’d like to see E.J. improve on his 3-point shooting and his assist-to-turnover ratio. He’s a pretty good passer from inside, which is something Tennessee struggled with at times last season after Grant Williams departed for the NBA.
“He’s become a pretty reliable catch-and-shoot 3-point shooter,” Latina said. “He can also roll and finish some plays. He’ll give Tennessee the ability to stretch the floor a little bit. He will make some 3s. You can throw the ball in the block and he can get to the free throw line. He does a very good job at drawing fouls. He makes free throws at a high level.”
E.J.’s conditioning and drive certainly appear to be present. He appeared in all 33 games for the Pioneers last season, averaging more than 33 minutes per game. He played fewer than 30 minutes just six times all season.
“He is just relentless. He is physical. He never stops. He’ll play through exhaustion,” said Latina. “Even before he developed into this great player that was something we noticed through the recruiting process. He was a little raw, not super polished, but he just kept going after the ball. That was something that was just a skill he either developed or was born with. It’s something he works on every day.”
That drive and physicality certainly runs in the Anosike family, with E.J. being the youngest of eight. After Nicky won two national titles at Tennessee and went on to the WNBA, E.J.’s older brother O.D. led the nation in rebounding twice at Siena before playing professionally overseas.
For a guy with no major offers out of high school or after a year at prep school, E.J. has carved his own path to being one of the most sought-after grad transfers of the offseason. He helped lead Sacred Heart to 20 wins this year, the most for the Pioneers since reclassifying to Division 1 in 1999 and the first winning season in over a decade.
“He can be a starter on a top 25 team,” said Latina, who also noted he believes E.J. will come off the bench at Tennessee with John Fulkerson and Yves Pons set to return next year. “I think he has the ability and the character to be that piece of the puzzle on a really good team.”
Before hanging up the phone Latina wanted to emphasize E.J.’s character and personality once more.
“I don’t know how much you cover the team, but whoever covers Tennessee, the fans, everyone, you all are really gonna love this kid. He’s such a great kid. We wish him the best and we really want nothing but success for him. You all really got a good one down there and we hope you all enjoy him as much as we did.”
A skilled basketball player with solid physical traits, a strong work ethic and charisma the fans will embrace. E.J. Anosike has attributes that scream Rick Barnes and Tennessee basketball.