Chima Moneke talks personal growth in Baskonia, TJ Shorts in the EuroLeague

2024-04-12T12:00:04+00:00 2024-04-13T10:34:05+00:00.

Cesare Milanti

12/Apr/24 12:00

Before heading to the last game of the Regular Season in Bologna, Baskonia’s forward also addressed the toughest matchups he has had this year

By Cesare Milanti /

After 33 intense rounds, it all came down to the head-to-head clash between Virtus Bologna and Baskonia, fighting for an 8th spot in the EuroLeague standings that have always meant something pretty important throughout the past few seasons.

Until this season, ending the regular season in 8th position was significant for finalizing an ultimate ticket for the Playoffs, trying to pull the upset on the 1st-seeded team. With the introduction of the Play-In Showdown, it means being only one victory away from the actual postseason.

Both 17-16, they arrive at this clash in different status. Losing six games in a row, Virtus Bologna wants to bounce back for good; after three consecutive defeats, Baskonia beat the regular season rulers last week, emerging from Madrid with a crucial victory to boost their chances.

Most importantly, the Basque team came to Italy with a sense of revenge after the 91-81 loss at home against the black-and-white side. “They’re not in their best moment right now, which is interesting. But they’re still a great team with great players. [Tornike] Shengelia is amazing. It’s gonna be a tough game”, Chima Moneke started saying to Eurohoops.

“What [Marco Belinelli did to us in the first game was the biggest reason why they won. He’s the most important person in my eyes for their success against us, so we need to guard him well and guard him off from the start”, the Nigerian forward recalled about the Italian guard’s 27-point masterclass to bring Luca Banchi’s team to victory in Vitoria-Gasteiz.

Life-growing lessons from Chima Moneke’s season

The 28-year-old forward has come a long way, traveling across the globe at a very young age with his parents, who worked in the diplomatic field. Emerging as a great basketball prospect in Australia, he proved his talent in college at UC Davis, before starting climbing up the ladder.

Cut three games into his first-ever professional season in Rouen, settling himself better in France, he exploded with BAXI Manresa in 2021-22, getting a call from the Sacramento Kings before heading back to Europe, debuting in the EuroLeague with last year’s Final Four participants AS Monaco.

Only this year, however, he can now say to have played his first full EuroLeague Regular Season, starting from an intense Round 1 against Real Madrid to the decisive 8th-seeded clash with Virtus Bologna in Round 34. “I can’t even think about that yet, because the Play-In makes everything so undetermined. We’re still trying to fight for the Playoffs”, he said thinking back at his first full circle in Baskonia.

With that said, he underlines what he had to do to come here. “But I’m proud of myself, for what I’ve done. Getting here there have been struggles this season too and in the past. I wanted to be in the EuroLeague for so long and now I’m finally regarded by other people the way I’ve always regarded myself”, Chima Moneke added about his tumultuous and inspiring basketball path so far.

Moreover, Playoffs or not, surrounded by Vitoria’s colorful graffiti he has made significant growth personality-wise, “not letting bad games or bad moments with basketball” affect his life off the court. He learned to “not care as much what other people have to say” about him. “I’ve become more popular and that means more opinions about me, and I don’t care”, he stated.

“I appreciate all the good ones for sure, but two seasons ago for example bad comments would have affected me more than they should have. Now they genuinely do not. And I laugh, remember that”, the Niferian small forward addressed before emphasizing a problematic way of living the sport.

“A lot of fans have conditional love for basketball players and athletes. You play three good games and you’re the best player in the world, three bad games those same fans don’t want you anymore and they think you’re not a good player. The people who are really important to me are the people who matter. I’m proud of myself for the growth I’ve had”, he also said.

What have been Chima Moneke’s toughest matchups?

Going back to in-court talks, it can’t be denied that this has been the most competitive year in EuroLeague history. And the introduction of the Play-In, to which Baskonia has mathematically qualified last week, helped. “I like the Play-In, and when I say that I think about it as a regular fan. If I was a regular fan, I’d like to see competitive and meaningful games”, he commented.

It means more competitiveness for more spots. “Ending of the season, normally a team could have locked in 7th and they’re good for the Playoffs, but now they’re trying to get 6th because there’s a big difference between 6th and 7th, and a big difference between 7th-8th and 9th-10th. It gives teams that are fighting from 11th, 12th, and 13th trying to get to that 10 spots. It feels like 13 teams still have a chance, 13 teams that can still make the playoffs right now. And it’s exciting”, Chima Moneke added.

After spending the second part of the 2022-23 season with AS Monaco, the Nigerian forward has now ticked off more teams faced from his opponents list. “Coming into the season they were Monaco and Manresa for obvious reasons”, he said about games he was most excited for when joining Baskonia, being his last two European teams.

However, he wasn’t surely the one with the spotlights on heading into the 2023-24 EuroLeague year. “When EuroLeague posted a post of 11 players that changed teams, they asked “Who are you most excited to see? I was 11th. Nobody had expectations for me coming into the season”, he first said.

Surprising everybody at the beginning of this year’s Regular Season, his performances naturally found an adjustment process. “I started it off really well. I was on fire: 1st in PIR, 2nd in scoring. I knew there would have been a point where it dropped off and things changed, and defense is focused more on me. I wanted to see how I handled that attention and that difference. I’m proud of how I did it”, he affirmed.

Putting teams aside, this has been an interesting year matchup-wise as well for the former BAXI Manresa player, who’s heading into the last game of the Regular Season by averaging 14.0 points and 6.8 rebounds per game in the EuroLeague.

When asked about the toughest players to face, his mind goes immediately to one person. “Will Clyburn came into the game and he was ready on fire, he attacked me straight away and I didn’t expect that, picking up two fouls immediately. That threw me off. He’s a great player, I have to say”, he commented on Anadolu Efes‘ forward, who recently stated to still be the best three in Europe.

While the former CSKA Moscow star is on another level in offense, another name came to Moneke’s thoughts when referring to a different kind of matchup. “On the opposite end, John Brown. Defensively he’s incredible. Those are the two guys: offensively Will Clyburn and defensively John Brown”, he commented on his former AS Monaco teammate, with whom he played last year’s Final Four.

But who belongs to the elite of forwards in the EuroLeague? “Me”, Chima Moneke first said. “Even though he didn’t have a great season for his standards, for what he’s done in the past you always have to put Will Clyburn in there”, he once again said, praising the 2019 Final Four MVP. “[Nikola] Mirotic obviously, Shavon Shields. Alec Peters had a great year, [Mario] Hezonja for sure, [Guerschon] Yabusele… There’s a lot of elite players”, he continued with the list.

The former Sacramento and Stockton Kings player had great words as well on the record-breaking Fenerbahce‘s colleague. “Even before the 50-point game, Nigel Hayes-Davis is incredible. He’s consistent, he’s always locked in. Why I respect him is that he’s nothing like me in terms of his personality, he’s always focused on the game. And I respect that. That’s not me. He’s always locked in, a great defender, a good shooter, and he doesn’t really have too many weaknesses. And I’ve noticed that since he was in Barcelona and I was in Manresa”, he added.

Despite being full of potential game-changing players who can decide encounters on their own, the EuroLeague remains a team-first league. “No team in the EuroLeague has one player that gets all the focus only, no matter who is: Shane Larkin, Mike James, whoever. You still have high-level players who are good players, who have to get the necessary focus, or else they’d kill you. A team would be silly to focus less on Markus Howard if he has had two or three bad games in a row”, Chima Moneke said.

TJ Shorts “will kill it” in the EuroLeague with Paris

Before heading to the NBA, G-League, and finally EuroLeague, he had an outstanding MVP season in the Basketball Champions League, coming up short against Lenovo Tenerife in Bilbao’s 2022 Final Four.

When thinking about BCL and EuroCup possibly joining forces for a most-equipped and stronger second league in Europe, he agrees. “I think it’s great. BCL overtook EuroCup a couple of years ago in my eyes. If you add the best teams in the EuroCup with the best teams in BCL and bring them together, it’s only good for them and for the EuroLeague because there’s even more competition”, he said.

Having gone through the 3rd-place game in the Final Four last year against Barcelona after losing to Olympiacos in the Semi-Finals, Chima Moneke would prefer the EuroCup or the “EuroLeague Women’s” Final before the last game of the EuroLeague season. “3rd place game is bullshit”, he added. With this scenario, Paris Basketball and JL Bourg-en-Bresse would have had to wait till May 28.

Instead, tonight Tuomas Iisalo’s team will have the opportunity to close things up by beating the French rivals in Game 2 of the EuroCup Final, dragged by the competition’s MVP TJ Shorts, somebody who Chima Moneke knows pretty well since college days in UC Davis.

When talking about his best friend’s transition from the Basketball Champions League with Telekom Baskets Bonn to EuroCup with Paris Basketball, he thinks there haven’t been any change in the American guard’s impact on the team. The switch came way earlier.

“When he was in Hamburg and he was still reserved, trying to learn how to play in Europe. Then he went to Crailsheim, and that’s when the change happened. He started talking trash like me, being aggressive, flexing, celebrating, and taunting. Been himself. We played together in college for one year and he didn’t do any of that, he was very reserved and focused on the game. He’s my best friend and we’re so similar that he finally started embracing, being himself, and not carrying what other people think. That’s when the change happened”, Chima Moneke commented about TJ Shorts’s growth.

Dominating the scene in the second-tier competition in European basketball, the path is clear for TJ Shorts, who managed to be MVP in consecutive seasons despite different teams and contexts. “He was the BCL and BCL Final Four MVP winning it for Bonn, and he’s gonna be the MVP, Final MVP, and champion this season in the EuroCup”, he surely said about his best friend’s end of the season.

Winning the EuroCup would mean certain future in next year’s EuroLeague, and Chima Moneke doesn’t know any team but the French capital’s one for him. “The only team for him is Paris Basketball, and I’ve told him this since the start: first season in the EuroLeague, he needs to be in a place where the coach would trust him”, he affirmed, referring to the healthy relationship he has with Tuomas Iisalo.

“As a small guard, his first impression in the EuroLeague, if it was bad, they would forget about everything he had done before, saying he was too small to play in the EuroLeague. No matter what he does in the future. When Paris wins the EuroCup, goes to the EuroLeague, and he kills there, there won’t be any questions, because he’s gonna be playing for a coach who would let him do that”, he added.

Chima Moneke then lined a pretty good comparison to describe TJ Shorts’ potential future. “I compare him to Yago [dos Santos] in a sense, because with Dusko [Ivanovic] he didn’t have an opportunity. If Dusko [Ivanovic] stayed the whole time [in Crvena Zvezda], we wouldn’t know how good he is in the EuroLeague”, the Nigerian forward also commented.

“I’m happy for him because he won’t be in that position. He will be in Paris, playing in the EuroLeague, and he will be the starting point guard. People will be “Okay, this guy is fucking incredible”, regardless of how small he is and tiny he is. They say he’s 1’75” but he’s 1’68”, Chima Moneke finally joked about Paris Basketball’s leader.

PHOTO CREDIT: Turkish Airlines EuroLeague

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