D’Tigers and Moneke on the prowl for Olympics success

“The word that describes me best is energy”

AT 25-years-old Nigeria’s Chima Moneke has had a life most young people could only carve out in their dreams.

A son of diplomats, Moneke learnt that settling in one place would not be the norm for him. Instead, he became a global citizen rooted in his African identity.

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Chima Moneke prides himself in playing defence. Pictures: FIBA and Cheick Haidara

“By the age of seventeen, I had lived on five continents. I made a lot of friends who I have stayed connected with on Facebook. I did not think about it until I became a man and understood that my life was rare. Many people don’t get the opportunity to travel,” said Abuja-born Moneke.

The globetrotting experience, while an eye-opener, Moneke has learnt, it also comes at a cost. Like being away from family and not being able to settle in one place.

“Travelling has helped me appreciate all kinds of cultures. It has helped me see all types of cultures and not just hear about them. The negatives were moving around and not seeing my family. I have not seen my father since 2009. It was the same thing with my mom, but she came to visit me in 2018. So it’s been a tough life, but it has had its rewards.” said Moneke, who got his first taste of the diplomatic life at two-years-old, when his parents moved to Australia.

Even though he country-hopped with his family, a common thread in Moneke’s life was basketball, a sport he picked up in his teens. But before basketball took over, football had captured his imagination with Nigeria’s Super Eagles his favourite team.

“I was a football fan. Of course, being Nigerian, I was a Super Eagles fan. I did not start playing basketball until I was thirteen-years-old. So that’s where the story started,” said Moneke.

The D’ Tigers, Nigeria’s national team, will be happy that Moneke, who sports a unique look on game days, ditched football for his new found love.

On the basketball court, Moneke is instantly recognisable. What makes him stand out? His locks, headband and eyewear are part of his ensemble when he steps on the court, for country and club.

 

 

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Although his on court appearances make him stand out , Moneke is not afraid to get down and dirty where it counts the most.

“The word that describes me best is energy. I am versatile. I am a smart player. I have good timing to block shots, get steals and rebounds. I think all of that is under-appreciated. I can make plays off the dribble. I am proud of my defence. I can guard anybody on the ball,” said Moneke alluding to his strengths.

The forward is not afraid to point out the areas of his game that need improvement. “Guarding off the ball is something I have been struggling with in my rookie season and last year. This season I have taken a big step and continue to make good strides. I also need to trust my shot,” reflected Moneke.

While he is a work in progress, Moneke’s attributes contributed to Nigeria’s recent qualification for the FIBA Afrobasket tournament in Rwanda (24 August – 5 September). Helping the D’ Tigers reach their goal has Moneke feeling proud to represent Africa’s most populous nation.

“I still don’t think I understand the magnitude of what I have done. Even though it was the qualifiers, the feeling of Nigeria on my chest was a proud moment. This is the seventh most populated country in the world and I was one of the ten people selected. It was amazing,” said Moneke. “Hearing the national anthem made me think about the times I watched the Super Eagles and D’ Tigers at the Olympics. I was now in that position. All my people in Australia and Nigeria were watching me. And my parents were proud of me. It was just an incredible feeling and moment.”

With qualifications for the AfroBasket and the Olympics (July 25 – 7 August in Tokyo) sealed, Moneke now has one more task. That is to convince D’ Tigers head coach Mike Brown, an assistant coach for NBA franchise Golden State Warriors to retain him for both tournaments. These prospects have heightened Moneke’s ambition and desire, especially for the Olympics.

“I want more. I want to make the Olympic team. Internationally, there’s nothing bigger than the Olympics. If I can make the team on that stage. Man! No words.” said Moneke, who plays for the French LNB club, Orleans Loiret Basket.

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Chima Moneke dreams of playing for Nigeria at the Olympics.

Given the calibre of head coach hired by the Nigeria Basketball Federation (NBBF) and the talent pool available to the D’Tigers, Moneke believes they can capture a medal in Tokyo. Moneke also feels that if more players of Nigerian descent played for the West African nation, it would be a completely different story.

“We are not satisfied with just being a top team on the continent. The talent Nigeria has is incredible. If players of Nigerian origin, like Giannis Antetokoumpo, Victor Oladipo, decided to represent the team, how can you tell us that we are not winning a medal? The only thing that puts us at a disadvantage is that we did not grow up playing together.

“You have seen the Australians play together. America has immense talent. Players in countries like Lithuania, Spain and France grew up playing together and competing against each other,” said Moneke. Nigeria is establishing itself as a powerhouse internationally. We are now getting players from different parts of the world. If we grew up playing with and against each other we would be winning medals.”

Moneke’s optimism for Nigeria’s prospects at the Olympics is understandable. A quality coach, exceptional players and a winning attitude. All these ingredients make for a team capable of causing a stir in Tokyo. And who knows they could indeed win a medal.

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