Kene Chukwuka’s path from Sweden brought him to Pittsburgh

first_img Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on January 15, 2018 at 7:13 pm Contact Kaci: [email protected] In high school, Kene Chukwuka spent about three hours a day on YouTube. He’d get home from school and watch until it was time for basketball practice.Some days, it was Kobe Bryant highlights. Other times, it was documentaries on Michael Jordan or Dennis Rodman. During the NBA season, he would watch highlights from the previous night’s games as the time difference made it difficult for him to watch them live.Chukwuka grew up in Sweden, a country not known for its basketball prowess. Sweden has produced three NBA players since the 1946-47 season including current Utah Jazz forward Jonas Jerebko. Now, Chukwuka is one of 12 Swedish players currently in Division I, featuring as a reserve center for Pittsburgh (8-10, 0-5 Atlantic Coast). Chukwuka will find himself in the Carrier Dome when the Panthers take on Syracuse (12-6, 1-4) on Tuesday night.“In Sweden, sports isn’t that big, I mean it was always school that was the main focus,” Chukwuka said. “But basketball … I just started putting work into it and stuff and it really started to turn into a way of life.”Chukwuka first got into basketball when he moved from Stockholm to the south of Sweden. The friends he made there were into the sport so he decided to try it out. Chukwuka played for a club team, since no high schools had a team.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textFor the 2015-16 season, he played for BG Fryshuset Stockholm where he averaged nearly 10 points and two blocks a game. Prior to that, he played for the Trelleborg Pirates, averaging 30 points a game by his final season.When it was time for him to choose a college, Chukwuka decided he wanted to play basketball in the United States. Asking a friend of his, who was at the time committed to Montana State, for help, and got in contact with one of the MSU coaches late in the summer.“In America, everybody’s trying to reach the top in whatever they do,” Chukwuka said. “I like the whole you chase your dream thing.”In the summer of 2016, too late for Chukwuka to receive a scholarship offer, he was put in contact with junior college coaches, including Brian Lohrey of New Mexico Junior College where Chukwuka later committed.In the first non-exhibition game of the season against Trinidad State Junior College, Chukwuka was under the basket when a shot missed. He bent his knees, preparing to jump to gather the rebound. But as he did, another player ran into him, injuring his right hip.Against Trinidad State, Chukwuka was on the floor for 21 minutes. The rest of the season, following his injury, he averaged fewer than 10 minutes per game. He ended the season with 95 rebounds and 79 points.“I had a tough season over there,” Chukwuka said. “I didn’t put up the stats to really back up who I was as a player.”Used to the slower nature of Swedish hoops, he had to get used to the faster pace of the game as well as the sheer size of the players in the U.S. In Sweden, his 6-foot, 9-inch frame was advantageous, unlike in America where he regularly plays with and against guys that are the same size or taller.Despite his injury and adapting to a different style of play, Chukwuka was invited to a JUCO top 100 showcase in Wichita, Kansas, the summer after his 2016-17 season. In his first game, he put up 16 points and the NCAA offers started rolling in. When Pittsburgh called, he liked the coach and the team camaraderie. On Aug. 8, 2017, Chukwuka committed, completing Pitt’s 2017 recruiting class.“(Chukwuka) always tries hard, he always plays hard,” Pitt head coach Kevin Stallings said after the Panthers played Duke on Jan. 10, “but sometimes he just gets going too fast in his mind and it’s a process for him, slowing the game down.”This season, the center is second on the team in blocks (nine) and has 43 rebounds (12 offensive boards and 31 defensive rebounds). In the span of about one minute at the end of the first half against Duke, Chukwuka retrieved four offensive rebounds. He started the second half and made his only shot in the half from behind the arc to add to his three-point basket from the first half. He finished the game 3-3 from the field for eight points.“I’ve seen him do it in practice, get five offensive rebounds in a row and keep going,” Pitt guard/forward Jared Wilson-Frame said after the loss to Duke. “He’ll be wheezing next to me and I’ll be like ‘Kene, you good?’ and he’ll be like ‘yeah, let’s go.’ That’s just who he is and we really appreciate that.” Commentslast_img