It has been a long road to college basketball’s biggest stage for Chima Moneke. The UC Davis junior forward has burst onto the scene as he helped lead his squad to its first ever NCAA Tournament win on Wednesday night.
What Moneke has been able to do in just his first season of Divison I college basketball has been impressive. He was the second leading scorer for the Big West Tournament champions, averaging over 14 points per game. Moneke also led the Big West in rebounding and shot blocking en route to being named the conference’s Newcomer of the Year.
But, when you consider the path that Moneke has taken to get to this point, his feats of the past season are even harder to believe.
Moneke came to the United States to play basketball from Canberra, Australia, but spent a great deal of his life moving all over the globe. He’s lived on five continents and spent the majority of his time abroad as a soccer player. Moneke describes his younger self as “a soccer boy” until he picked up basketball upon moving back to Australia in 2009.
Even then, Moneke says he still didn’t take basketball seriously until 2011. His skills grew quickly and he was featured in a national tournament his senior year of high school alongside players like Dante Exum. But while Exum garnered big attention, Moneke struggled for recognition from colleges. In an article from The Sydney Morning Herald, Moneke is quoted as saying he sent over 300 emails to potential suitors in the United States.
Moneke was eventually spotted by a coach from Northeast Community College in Nebraska. He spent two seasons there and thrived, averaging double digit scoring both years.
That’s where UC Davis comes in.
Moneke was spotted by UC Davis’ head coach Jim Les, transferred and sat out the 2015-16 season as a redshirt. He finally took to a Division I basketball court at the beginning of this season, posting an eight-point, 14-rebound performance in a season opening loss to Tennessee State. Moneke says it was tough transitioning to Division I basketball due to the speed and strength of his opponents.
But, Moneke finished his self-assessment by saying “I feel like I’ve adjusted quite well.” His numbers certainly back that up, as does his team’s performance.
The Aggies battled UC Irvine for much of the season, only losing out by one game in the final regular season standings. They got their revenge in the Big West championship game, beating the Anteaters by three points to propel UC Davis to its first NCAA Tournament.
Moneke then took the reins on Wednesday night in Dayton. He led all scorers with 18 points and ripped down 12 rebounds in a 67-63 win over NC Central.
“I feel like I’m a confident player and I got it going early,” Moneke said following the win, “I like the matchup that I had.”
UC Davis will need Moneke and his confidence in its next game. The Aggies will travel to Tulsa where they face the top-seeded Kansas Jayhawks.
“We all can play at this level...I don’t fear anybody, but I respect everybody and I feel like the way we play defense we can make any game a game,” he said. “And if we play the way we’ve been playing the past few weeks, then we definitely can do that.”
The confidence that Moneke sees in his own game has played a massive role in getting him to the pinnacle of college basketball. It’s likely what caught the attention of coach Les, whose pitch was effective.
“[Les] told me if I liked good weather and nice looking girls that I should come to UC Davis,” Moneke said.
Sometimes it is as simple as that.