VITALIS CHIKOKO’S dream of playing in the US National Basketball Association league appears to be fading with each passing day despite an impressive résumé that has seen him grace courts in Italy, Germany and France.Five years on from leaving his Glen View, Harare home in pursuit of the NBA dream, the 25-year-old forward is physically closer to the US, but still just as far from the NBA as when he was in Zimbabwe. Hope, though, is something he isn’t losing. By Tinashe Kusema
“The NBA has always and still remains the goal,” said his agent Peter Mubanda. “It is just unfortunate that things haven’t gone our way and we are not where we planned to be at this stage in his career.
“When we began this adventure; the goal was for him to get a couple years in the European leagues, attract some interest and then make his way to the NBA. He still has what it takes to make it: the right height, a mature mind for the sport and a unique skill set for someone his size. It is our hope that we will get a breakthrough soon.”
Chikoko has put in the time and sweat in his half-decade on the European circuit. Three years flew by in Germany, where he played for ASC Göttingen, TBB Trier and Bayern Munich. He moved to Italy last year after signing for Pallacanestro Reggiana, and he now finds himself at French club Élan Béarnais Pau-Orthez.
Chikoko also has the right build and size, standing at 2,08m – well within the range of NBA stars – and weighing 91kg. Mubanda reckons the NBA draft system does not do Africans any favours.
“The exploits of African players like Dikembe Mutombo, Hakeem Olajuwon, Bismack Biyombo and many other centres means that the league now mainly look to Africa for height and size. But over the years, the game has advanced and you now have more big men who play in the power forward position. Chikoko is one of those,” he said.
Mubanda’s assertion is supported by the stats. Since inception, back in 1947, only 38 African players have managed to break into the NBA. This is largely due to the limited – and somewhat cumbersome – ways the league drafts its players.
There are two main ways to join the league.The first is through the NBA draft, which is an annual event where the 30 teams get the opportunity to select players who are deemed eligible and wish to join the league.Eligible players are those mainly from the college circuit, and they have to have finished school or at least declared themselves eligible and given up on their remaining college years.International players are also eligible but they are usually brought in through scouts.
With no scouts dangling the NBA carrot, Chikoko has little option but to continue slugging it away in Europe.“The nature of most of these Euro clubs, which mainly hand out one-year contracts to foreign players, has seen Vita jump from club to club and hardly stay at one club long enough to break into the starting five.
Such a scenario limits his chances of getting noticed by scouts who have the NBA links,” said Mubanda.