ZIMBABWE professional basketball player Vitalis Chikoko has cut his teeth into the NBA after flying out of the country on Wednesday for trials with the Houston Rockets as the United States (US) national basketball association picks number 71 for the 2013 season, according to media reports.
The former Mbare Heat player, who was discovered by Hoops 4 Hope, becomes the first Zimbabwean to break into the multi-billion dollar NBA and will be attending a week-long draft camp in Florida next week.
Early last month, DraftExpress in the US reported the 22-year-old former Prince Edward High School player, who stands at 2,08 metres, has a unique background for qualifying for the 2013 NBA Draft.
“Few players eligible for the 2013 NBA Draft have as unique a background as Vitalis Chikoko. Just three years ago, he was a complete unknown, dominating local competition playing for the Mbare Heat in Zimbabwe. He was a rough diamond uncovered through the efforts of Hoops 4 Hope,” DraftExpress reported.
Chikoko, who has been playing his professional basketball in the German Bundesliga for TBB Trier, told the US media that he started playing the game after quitting football at the age of 11.
“My love for basketball was born that day, from then on I switched from soccer to basketball and I have not looked back ever since. Our American coach for Mbare Heat helped me to secure trials in the German League and I was drafted. This is where I started my career as a pro.
“In June, I went to the Euro Camp in Italy and I was chosen out of the world’s top 30 basketball players under 22 years. There were NBA scouts and managers at the camp and when they saw me play, they said; ‘Yeah he is good’. I like the type of play and (Kevin) Durant has the kind of body that I have and I hope some of them will be at this camp and I can meet them personally,” Chikoko said.
Durant plays for Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA.
Chikoko’s first international experience was in 2008 International Basketball Federation (FIBA) Under-18 qualifying round where, through his agent and coach at the time, he was able to present his DVD to German BBL club Göttingen.
He then left Zimbabwe to start his professional career in Europe at the start of the 2011-12 season.
Chikoko then joined TBB Trier to remain in the Bundesliga with Göttingen bound for demotion. Last month, DraftExpress said Chikoko progressed “. . . steadily since he arrived in Germany”.
“It isn’t hard to see what makes Chikoko an interesting talent on first glance. Possessing good size and length for a big man, the 22-year-old is also an impressive athlete, running the floor like a deer and showing good quickness for a center prospect.
“On the offensive end, Chikoko’s role reflects his lack of high-level experience and limited feel for the game. Finishing this season with an average of 6,3 points in 15,5 minutes per-game, he found the vast majority of his touches in catch and finish situations resulting from his work without the ball in his hands.