C hima Moneke may only be 21, but the UC Davis junior forward who has now lived in five continents throughout his lifetime, is making a big difference for his college basketball team.
Moneke has been lighting up social media in Australia and in the States after his recent performances on the Division 1 college stage in the US.
UC Davis finished first in the Big West Division, winning the championship game for the first time in the school’s history, and Moneke has been a star player for the team, averaging a double-double of 19 points per game and 10.5 rebounds per game.
As winners of the Big West conference, UC Davis faced North Carolina Central on Thursday for a place in the highly coveted NCAA basketball tournament.
Otherwise known as March Madness, the tournament sees the best 64 college basketball teams in the country battle it out in a knockout competition to determine the number one school in the USA.
After beating North Carolina Central 67-63, UC Davis faced number one seed in the Midwest region, the Kansas Jayhawks.
Chima’s school bowed out to one of the competition favourites, losing 100-62, but the history-making team will only want to get better.
I was lucky enough to catch with Chima during this busy and exciting part of his life, and I asked him a few questions about the game that he has made his own.
Q: What can you tell me about your early life? Where were you born? Do you remember much as a young kid?
A: I was born in Abuja, Nigeria and then I ended up moving to south Canberra when I was 2. I went to Farrer Primary and ended up living in Australia for almost 5 years. Moved back to Nigeria in 2003 and then to Turkey in 2005. We travelled all across the world because my parents were diplomats. In total, I ended up living on 5 continents. The earliest memory I have is being on the plane coming to Australia.
Q: Did you play any other sports growing up? When did you start playing basketball? Was there a feeling that that was what you wanted to do from then on out?
A: I played soccer and only soccer growing up. I took soccer seriously and was pretty good at it but I was a natural athlete that could pick up most sports. I started playing basketball in 2009 and didn’t take it seriously till 2011 when I represented my school in a national tournament and performed pretty well. That’s when I started to work towards playing in the United States.
Q: Obviously, college basketball is a huge deal in the US, how did the opportunity arise to go over there and play? How did you feel when that opportunity presented itself to you?
A: I represented Lake Ginninderra at the Australian School Championships in 2012 and we had a great team with guys like Dante Exum, Mirko Djeric, and Darcy Malone. We lost in the gold medal match but the old assistant coach of the community college I would end up going to told me he was willing to help. A week later he called me saying that he had an offer in Norfolk, Nebraska and I took it without hesitation because I had no other offers.
Q: What was it like when you first got to your new home? What has your college experience been like?
A: Norfolk is a small town that doesn’t have a lot to do so it helped me focus on basketball and stay away from distractions. However, I soon realised that I don’t want to spend another 2 or so years in the snow so I decided on coming to a school preferably in California. Now that I’m at Davis, it’s been amazing. I love it, College has been phenomenal. My redshirt year was good because it helped me simply focus on basketball, academics and being social, also people knew who I was but I was rarely stopped to have a conversation and be talked to. Now that my first season of playing is over and we did pretty well, it’s been crazy. My life is changing as I type this message and I love it.
Q: I understand you have a fellow Aussie and friend playing in your conference. How did it feel to play against Darcy Malone?
A: Yeah, Darc is one of my best friends and I was excited when he told me he was coming to a school in my conference. We kept in touch throughout his time at LSU and it was good to see him and eventually knock his team out of the conference tournament.
Q: Winning your conference title must have been a special feeling, how did it feel to win that game and make it to the NCAA championships?
A: It was the best sporting moment I’ve had in my life and I cried for a long time because I immediately thought of all the hard times and people who said I would never be able to accomplish something like that. Hopefully, I can do it again next year.
Q: What has it been like playing in the NCAA tournament? How do you handle the pressure in games like that? Do you have a pregame routine or any superstitious ritual?
A: Honestly, I didn’t feel pressure playing in any of those games. Not a lot of people picked us to win either game and I’m used to being the underdog. I tend to perform better when I’m doubted. I don’t generally have a pregame ritual but if I nap for a certain amount of time for one game or wear an accessory on a certain part of my body and we win and I play well, then I’ll try to do it again.
Q: Finally, where can you see your basketball career progressing over the next few years? If the opportunity arose, who is your dream team you’d like to play for?
A: I want to play professionally whether it is in the NBA or in Europe or back in Australia. I’m going to keep working hard to get better which will allow me to have more opportunities. I’ve always wanted to play in the Olympics while representing a country. If Australia gave me that chance it would be great because that’s where I began playing and I call it home. However, if Nigeria gave me that chance as well, I don’t know how I could turn it down.
Story by Mitchell Keenan.