Born in Nigeria but raised in the city of Houston, Texas, Chinemelu Elonu is one of the growing number of Nigerian basketball athletes from the State of Texas. Coming out of Alief-Elsik High School back in 2004/5, Elonu was highly recruited by top D1 programs across the nation such as Texas, UConn, Georgia Tech and more, he committed to New Mexico State, but later transferred to Texas A&M where he blossomed as an athlete during his final season leading to his selection by the Los Angeles Lakers in the second round of the 2009 NBA draft. Still waiting for his chance to play in the NBA, Elonu has carved out a nice professional career overseas, playing in places such as France, Greece and Spain. Currently on the books of Turkish top side Tofas Bursa, Elonu is averaging 10.4 points and 8.9 rebounds per game as his team lies in 9th place in the Turkish premeir division. TNB recently caught up with the 6’10 forward to give us an insight into his game, his very big basketball family, and much more. Big thanks to Chinemelu for making the interview possible, and you can check him out right here
TNB: This is your fifth season playing overseas, what would you say has been the best experience of the last 5 years playing in Europe ?
Chinemelu: Winning the Championship in the 2nd Division of Spain and the team ascending to the ACB was great, but other than that I have many great experiences everywhere I have been.
TNB: Your team Tofas Bursa are currently in 9th place in the Turkish top division, how has the transition period been for you so far ?
Chinemelu: It was a little tough at first but thanks to my coaches and teammates I have adjusted quickly and feel very comfortable here in Bursa, Turkey. Turkey has a really good league that is a good mix of a fast pace/physical game.
TNB: Going back to the summer of 2009, you were the 59th pick in that year’s NBA draft, can you go back to that moment and tell us what was going through your mind when you heard your name being called ?
Chinemelu: I thought that I might not get picked and will just have to work extra hard to make a team but when I heard the Deputy Commissioner called my name I was just so thrilled and immediately started thanking God and enjoying the time with my family and friends. It was definitely one of the best moments in my life and something I will be happy to share with my future family or young inspiring basketball players.
TNB: You come from a big basketball family, your sister Akunna is in her freshman year at University of Texas San Antonio UTSA, Adaeze plays at Eastern Texas Baptist University (ETBU), another sister Adaora is having a fine season in Israel with Galil Elion, and you have another brother Chibuzo that plays professionally, how would you describe your parents attitude to sports growing up, and how do you guys support each other during the season ?
Chinemelu: My parents were more into us studying, but as we got older we started playing in Recreational Park Futbol (Soccer) leagues and eventually basketball they realized how much we loved it and they supported us in every way possible by taking us to the park to shoot baskets, doing fundraisers to raise money for our teams to travel, and of course emotional support, whenever we got down on ourselves or just needed to be told the truth about something. I love my parents for always being there for us and helping us fully embracing this wonderful sport of basketball God blessed us all to play. My sister Adaora was the first to start playing basketball then she got Chibuzo, Adaeze, Akunna and me involved we started practicing and playing in local Houston leagues to the point we became obsessed. During each of our season, we always communicate, via, text, Skype, Google+, Email and etc. We basically talk all day everyday. In terms of basketball, we just give each other advice, critique each others games and just do the normal teasing like any other family.
TNB: During the off season, you’ve been a part of the Los Angeles Lakers summer league team, what do you take from that experience, and what advise would you give to any young athlete trying to make the jump from College to the Pro’s
Chinemelu: Well they help me understand the game so much more. Like they were helping me understand how it is playing a forward and the right way and just the way to play without the ball. My advice to anyone is easy, Just work hard and NEVER give up on your dreams, but in order to achieve your dreams, you have to work hard at it.
TNB: You’ve never been involved with the Nigerian basketball program, do you follow the team and is it something you will consider if the opportunity should arise ?
Chinemelu: Yes, I follow the team and would very much want to get involved with the team.
TNB: Coming from Houston which has a large Nigerian population, are there other athletes of Nigerian heritage that you are close with ?
Chinemelu: Yes I know many Nigerian athletes, but I only hang out with one of my best buds, (O.J) Ojweve Avworo.
TNB: You had three stellar seasons playing for Texas A&M, what would you say is your fondest memory, and do you still keep in touch with the program ?
Chinemelu: Making it to the NCAA Tournament every year that I was there was a big achievement for me and of course I do, we all take being Aggies very seriously. Picking Texas A&M was one of my best decisions. Love Aggieland!
TNB: As an experienced professional, what other aspects of your game do you hope to improve on ?
Chinemelu: Shooting the ball better, Perimeter defense, and Getting my free throw percentage back up to 70%
TNB: Off the court, what other things do you enjoy ?
Chinemelu: Watching movies, reading, keeping up with technology and talking to family and friends.