The sounds thumped a mother's soul with the resonance of a two-ton kick drum.
Janel Nnaji could not believe what she was hearing come from downstairs. Zeke? Is that really you?
She'd just returned home after a weeklong work trip and was unpacking as her only son, years from entering middle school, sat at the family's baby grand piano.
"I dropped what I was doing," Janel said. "I was shocked."
Little Zeke Nnaji had played keys for a few years, but the level of detail of this new piece of music was atypically difficult for someone in elementary school. At such a young age Zeke was more than "good at piano." He was truly a player. He clearly had, and still has, that relatively rare ability to connect with one of the world's most demanding, versatile and popular musical instruments.
Little Zeke is no longer little. Nnaji is approximately 6-foot-11 and 240 pounds and has become a top-three freshman in college basketball while starring for Arizona. He's encroaching on top-five-all-time status in a number of Wildcat freshman categories. His 16.6 points per game are fifth-best by an Arizona freshman in school history. His 61.5% 2-point clip only trails Deandre Ayton (63.5%). He has 12 double-doubles, second-most by a frosh in Arizona history, only behind Ayton's 24. (Ayton was really, really good.)
As Arizona homes in on a return to the NCAA Tournament, a high-potential team has seen Nnaji emerge as the best and most consistent player over the past three months. For as talented as he is on hardwood, his most undeniable natural gift arrives on the ivories. Many college and pro athletes have musical ability, but Nnaji borders on virtuoso. He's played since he was 6 -- even before that if you count the toy piano he'd bang on in post-toddlerhood.