Adam Mokoka's Unconventional Path to the NBA

"I am just keeping my focus (with Windy City). And when I am with the Bulls it’s the same, be aggressive on defense and on offense bring that energy." - Adam Mokoka
by Sam Smith

Body

Following his breakout moment scoring 15 points in five minutes with the Chicago Bulls against the Pelicans last Thursday, Adam Mokoka hopes to continue progressing his game with Windy City.

Adam Mokoka had what would seem like an unusual sophomore year in high school. Forget homecoming. He left home. But to play basketball, and then three years later at 17 started playing for one of the top men's professional basketball teams in France.

Maybe it was just too much trouble to get a date for the senior prom.

"My mother, she wasn't in agreement with that so much," Mokoka admitted. "But she let me go; it was my goal. My first three years it was more for fun, but then it was to be a professional.

"At 17 at first I was really happy just to be professional, just to play and be on a team and be on the court," Mokoka related. "Just to work hard and be better. But when I was on the national team (winning two U-16 and U-18 championships) and I see other players from other countries, I saw I could compete against them and they can be in the NBA. I feel I can be, too."

Mokoka signed a two-way G-league/NBA contract with the Bulls last summer, and Thursday against the New Orleans Pelicans, Mokoka produced a late game five minutes of memory with 15 points and his first NBA basket, three of three on three pointers and six for six overall as the Bulls at least ended up closing the losing margin.

Chuck Swirsky interviews Adam Mokoka after Thursday's loss to the New Orleans Pelicans.

Then Friday, Mokoka was back to his real job, shooting guard for the Windy City Bulls as Windy City lost 107-97 to the Long Island Nets. Mokoka had 12 points and four rebounds Friday with two of five threes. He's averaging 9.5 points and 5.7 rebounds this season for Windy City. Former Loyola player Milton Doyle led Windy City with 19 points.

I always tell him you've got one of the prettiest shots in the world.

Zach LaVine on Adam Mokoka

Windy City is in the midst of a three-game home stand in four nights, Saturday hosting Grand Rapids and Monday against Maine. With a half dozen Bulls regulars injured, Mokoka likely will join the Bulls for the two-game road trip to Philadelphia and Washington and then head back to Hoffman Estates to close the G-league season through the end of March.

"It's cool; I like it," the physical 6-5, 195-pound guard says about his G-league experience. "We travel exactly the same as we did in Europe, so I am used to that. I have an apartment in Hoffman Estates. So I am just keeping my focus (with Windy City). And when I am with the Bulls it's the same, be aggressive on defense and on offense bring that energy. Put pressure on the defense and try to be aggressive on offense. I have been working on my shot a lot and when I have the shot to take it."

Adam Mokoka shoots the ball for the Windy City Bulls, the night following his 15 point performance against the Pelicans.

Adam Mokoka shoots the ball for the Windy City Bulls, the night following his 15 point performance against the Pelicans.

Mokoka showed the work against the Pelicans in a touching moment with his mother, Rosette, in the United Center for the first time to see her son play in the United States. Mokoka signaled to her after each three, though never taking his eye off the offense or hesitating on getting back on defense.

Mokoka as a player is somewhat similar to one time San Antonio Spurs defensive ace, Bruce Bowen, though a bit smaller at 6-5. Like Bowen, he's primarily in the game for defense and has a good catch and shoot three-point game. Though Mokoka is only shooting about 33 percent on threes for Windy City, he made at least four three pointers three times in games and had those three straight Thursday.

Zach LaVine even complimented Mokoka's shooting style.

"I always tell him you've got one of the prettiest shots in the world," LaVine said after the Pelicans loss. "If you see him shoot, his form and everything is perfect. I'm really happy for him and hopefully he gets some more time to be able to do that. Hopefully he gets some time when we're the team that's winning and it's not a blowout situation. He's been working his butt off and he brings it every day."

Adam Mokoka lays the ball in against the Pelicans last Thursday.

Adam Mokoka lays the ball in against the Pelicans last Thursday.

Which is why Mokoka loves the United States so much. It's where dreams have come true.

He was born and raised in Paris, playing soccer, of course, but quickly adapted to basketball when he was 11. "I'd be playing basketball on the side when they were playing soccer," he said. One of the reasons Europeans players have become so adept in the NBA is the early recruitment of top young players who then are schooled in fundamental play and are playing against veteran pros quickly.

Defense always was my strength since I started," he said. "I was always a good defender and I try to keep getting better

Adam Mokoka

At 14, Mokoka moved to northern France to play in the Gravelines-Dunkerque youth academy and then turned pro at 17. He spent five years there and then played a year in Serbia. "I was also going to school at 14, 15, 16, but then at 17 I had to make a choice. So I quit school and signed for basketball."

It's a time in life you have to be wary, so Mokoka also took it to his basketball game. He was always on the defensive.

"Defense always was my strength since I started," he said. "I was always a good defender and I try to keep getting better. Every coach giving me advice always says keep playing hard and playing defense and you will be a player to be on the court. So that is what I do."

He applied for the 2018 NBA draft, but took his name out and went to play in Serbia. He went into the draft in 2019 and wasn't drafted. The Bulls had seen him in Serbia and brought him to Summer League and the two-way contract with Thursday his first significant playing time for the Bulls. It was exciting as United Center fans even offered him a supportive "MVP" chant in his run of six straight baskets that included a Magic Johnson-like fake pass and finish for a layup.

"I was just happy to get there playing hard; I was able to get my first bucket. It was good," the 21-year-old Mokoka said. "I had some opportunities, so I just do my thing, try to play hard and get buckets. I was trying to help the team get back. I am happy to be here with those guys; it is cool to me. We have some trouble with injuries; next man up. If I am able to be on the court, I will be ready.

"Just trying to get better, to learn every day," Mokoka says. "Have some minutes with the (NBA) team and be good in the (G) league. It has been cool."

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The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

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