The EuroLeague time has finally come for Chima Moneke

2023-01-25T12:45:03+00:00 2023-01-25T22:18:38+00:00.

Cesare Milanti

25/Jan/23 12:45

The 2022 Basketball Champions League MVP is excited to begin his EuroLeague adventure with AS Monaco

By Cesare Milanti/

When Chima Moneke was answering questions in the mixed zone of the Bilbao Arena in Miribilla following Lenovo Tenerife’s triumph in the Basketball Champions League, emotions were floating in the air.

He was suffering after not being able to bring gold to Manresa despite the diaspora of thousands of Catalan fans all the way to the Basque Country. But deep down, he knew something bigger was coming, and most of the basketball landscape was expecting him to jump into the EuroLeague.

However, a big call came from the NBA, and from California. The Sacramento Kings wanted him, and he went straight there, saying that he belonged to the league. Despite everything looking promising, he soon got caught in the G-League limbo with the affiliated franchise in Stockton, and the dream was over.

“It wasn’t what I expected and it was disappointing, because I feel like up until the training camp started, at the end of September, I was there for two months and I was playing open gym with them, working out. I felt like I was really gonna be given an opportunity. But when the whole team got there and the training camp started, I felt like I wasn’t. And I’m a good reader of energy. Some of the people who were in charge had a plan for me”, he said in an exclusive interview with Eurohoops about his failing adventure.

“Getting sent to the G-League… I tried to be positive about it, but in my heart, I knew that I just didn’t wanna be there. I just wasn’t having fun playing in a big cold hockey arena with 20 people watching the game when I could have been playing in Europe with fans who care about the sport. Every time I was there it really hurt me. I tried to be positive but I knew in November that I didn’t want to be there”, he added about not being given the opportunity and being sent to the G-League.

But now, finally, things can get back on a positive page, as the 27-year-old Nigerian sensation has signed a two-year contract with AS Monaco, trying to help Mike James, Elie Okobo, and the rest of the Monegasque team reach the top of the EuroLeague.

Chima Moneke can’t wait to get started under head coach Sasa Obradovic. “I’m excited. I’m happy to be wanted. And it’s nice to be in a team that can compete for a title. It would be amazing to win a EuroLeague title and I really feel like we can do that with this team. So I hope I’m here for a long time”, he said about debuting in the biggest European competition with Monaco.

The 2022 Basketball Champions League MVP already knows the level of the French league, as he played there with Orléans in the 2020-2021 season, going also close to a double-double with 22 points and 8 rebounds against the Monegasque, but he has never played in the EuroLeague yet.

“I know that at this level every game is a game we can win, and at the same time, we can lose, even in the French league. I haven’t played in the EuroLeague before so I’ll be even more excited to get up for those games, but I’ll go there with the underdog mentality that I’ve always had, I’ve always had people not believing in me. I look forward to getting acclimated”, he said about how to approach the season.

“I know it’s gonna get some time, I don’t expect to be playing a lot of minutes or playing the way I know I can play straight away. I’ll be patient with it, and I know they’ll be patient with me. But when I get acclimated I know I’ll be an important player in this league”, he commented on his potential with the team, before saying that he obviously won’t have the same role he had in Catalunya. “If you play on a really really good team not everybody can play 30 minutes. I can’t play 28 minutes per game like I was doing at the end of the Basketball Champions League with Manresa”, he added.

However, there’s only one thing that matters for Chima Moneke, and that’s not his personal outcome. “I will feel very accomplished when I’m in the rotation and we win, even if I’m playing fifteen, eighteen, or twenty minutes a game. Because that’s what it’s about, it’s about winning. I know some people don’t have that mentality. A lot of people want to play 30 minutes and score their points, but if we win and I contribute to that, that’s the perfect scenario”, he added on what he can offer to AS Monaco.

The red-and-white team, which is currently tied with Zalgiris Kaunas at the 5th position in the EuroLeague standings with a 12-8 record, but just one win behind the 1st place, is full of high-level players who are shining: Mike James, Elie Okobo, and Jordan Loyd are just a few of them.

Despite reaching out with his new team only for a few days and just some hours of practice, Chima Moneke feels like he has been in that locker room for a lot of time already. “I’m a big basketball fan, so I know all of them personally. I’ve watched them play multiple times. It’s gonna take time to be myself and to help them the best way I can, but I know that there’s something missing and I feel like I’m that piece. I don’t need to be a superhuman to help this team, I just need to do little things, and I know I can do them. When I get the plays down and I know where I’m supposed to be, and understand the defensive coverages, it will be scary for other teams to face us”, he said warning the rest of the EuroLeague.

The UC Davis product, who grew up in Australia with Dante Exum, completely dismantled the 2021-22 Basketball Champions League, getting the well-deserved MVP award in Bilbao. Location apart, that’s what could realistically happen this year to his best friend, TJ Shorts II.

Telekom Baskets Bonn’s leader has been dragging the German team in the BCL, averaging 24.2 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 6.7 assists per game before the beginning of their Sweet 16.

And Chima Moneke knows more than anybody how much this means for him since they speak quite a lot. “I literally talk to TJ every single day. Since I met him, I’ve talked to him every single day, it’s actually crazy. On Snapchat we have 1500 days streak, most people don’t know that. That’s how close we are. Whenever he plays a big game, I facetime him and we talk for hours”, he said about their special bond.

“We’ve been talking about this stuff for years and seeing how it’s happening… he didn’t expect to be like this, I didn’t expect to be like this. He’s dominating, shooting over 50% from three. He just has the most confidence in the world, he’s talking trash on the court: I love it. He’s my favorite player to watch in the world, my best friend. It makes me happy. I want him to win the BCL MVP more than I wanted to win it for myself. That’s how much I care about him”, he added on TJ Shorts II, who’s having the same impact with Bonn that Moneke had with BAXI Manresa.

The former Sacramento Kings player also has a message for all of TJ Shorts’ doubters. “He’s also another person that people will say “He’s too small to play in the EuroLeague”. Don’t question how tough TJ Shorts is. He’s good enough to play at any level. The people who keep saying that will help him, motivate him to keep getting better and prove that he can play”, he finally said about his potential jump to the EuroLeague, where they could face each other.

The EuroLeague, then, is ready to welcome who likes to describe himself as a “fun, positive, always laughing, energetic person”, who likes to make “everybody laugh, smile, and be happy”. A guy who thinks he is “one of the funniest people in the world”, and who tries to “be a good person”.

If you didn’t know him, now you don’t have any alibi. The countdown is going faster and faster because the time for Chima Moneke in the EuroLeague is here. Finally.

PHOTO CREDIT: Basketball Champions League