Nigerian prospect Chu Chu chugs toward NBA dream
Flanked by two first-round draft picks, Chukwudiebere Maduabum did his best to act casual as he sat at his first NBA press conference.
Surely, this was all a dream.
Just a couple years earlier, he had been learning the fundamentals of basketball at Masai Ujiri’s Big Man camp in Nigeria. Now, here he was being introduced by Ujiri, the executive vice president of basketball operations for the Denver Nuggets.
“This is the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” Maduabum said. “This is every basketball player’s dream. If somebody told me last year that I would be able to make it to the NBA, I probably wouldn’t believe them. I just had to work hard. I kept working. It’s just great.”
Maduabum, who goes by the nickname “Chu Chu,” was selected 56th overall by the Los Angeles Lakers at last week’s NBA Draft and then traded to Denver for a future second-round pick. Prior to a limited stint in the NBA Development League last season, he averaged 10.5 points, 12.3 rebounds and three blocked shots for the Dodan Warriors in Nigeria.
With a 35-inch vertical leap and a desire to improve, the 20-year-old Maduabum was too intriguing for the Nuggets to pass up.
“He shows promise,” Ujiri said. “He’s very athletic. He blocks shots. He plays raw, but you can see where he loves the game, spends hours on the court and tries to get better. We’ll take a chance and see how he develops.”
The Nuggets are hoping Maduabum can follow the path of Oklahoma City Thunder forward Serge Ibaka, a native of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Ibaka, 21, played in Spain as a teenager from 2006-09 and has blossomed into a premier rebounder and shot blocker.
Maduabum possesses many of Ibaka’s attributes but his immediate focus is to simply work hard and get better every day. That could mean playing overseas or in the D-League again next season.
“This kid will work hard and is in the gym every day,” Ujiri said. “He has to develop a feel for the game. He has to develop skill. That’s why we got him where we got him and we’ll develop him. There’s going to be progress. We’ll get there.”