Tchatchoua's interesting trek to a national title at Baylor
Cameroon native is first NBA Academy alum to play in the men's basketball title game
To know Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua, is to realize his nickname could not be any more appropriate.
“Everyday,” in Tchatchoua’s case, refers to his work ethic in everything he does in his life.
Tchatchoua recently helped Baylor win the NCAA men’s basketball national championship. The sophomore’s modest line — six points, two rebounds, two steals and an assist — belied his key role in a defensive effort that at times suffocated the previously undefeated Gonzaga Bulldogs.
“Everyday Jon” and his teammates were more than prepared for everything thrown their way, including slowing down Gonzaga standout big man Drew Timme.
“I definitely spent hours watching Timme on film,” Tchatchoua said. “I watched him getting buckets and knew we had to stop him. We knew what we had to do as far as switches and fronting him and making sure he didn’t get the ball where he normally gets it.
“They came in averaging around 50 points in the paint and he was shooting like 75% off of isolations.”
Using a swarming defensive scheme, Baylor held Timme to 12 points — seven under his average. After leading the nation with an average of 91.6 points per contest, Gonzaga scored a season-low 70 points in the title game.
“Just the way we were slowing them down in the beginning, I felt like we were overwhelming them defensively,” Tchatchoua said. “We didn’t let them get into their offense like they normally do. I felt like we had this game after the first four minutes.
“We played defense the way we’ve been playing all year. We tried to be aggressive. We played with our own tempo and at our pace.”
If a mad scientist went into the lab to create the perfect player for Baylor’s stifling defense, it would probably resemble Tchatchoua. He’s 6-foot-8, 245 pounds, plays with a high motor and takes more pride in getting stops than scoring. He is the definition of a glue guy. He hustles, rebounds, bangs with forwards and can switch on to speedy guards.
While Stephen Curry step-back 3-pointers and Kryie Irving how-did-he-do-that drives to the rim make them perennial House of Highlights residents, Tchatchoua and his teammates proved defense still wins championships.
“I’m more of a defensive-minded guy who tries to impact the game on that end of the floor,” Tchatchoua said. “I bring the energy. We kind of have eight starters on our team. One of the reasons we are the best team in the nation is because we have the best bench. When we get in the game, we bring the juice. Our bench versus the other team’s second unit is no match.
“Sometimes the best games we played this year were us against each other in practice. That tells you how deep this team is. Even the guys who don’t get the spotlight enough, they make us better every single day. They play extremely hard during practice and they helped us be able to win it all.”
How did Tchatchoua develop his legendary work ethic and team-first mindset? His story began in Dioula, Cameroon. Soccer was his sport of choice, until a spirited debate — no different than one being had in just about any barber shop around the world — set the table for his basketball journey.
“One day my brother and his best friend were arguing about who was better, LeBron James or Michael Jordan? I was like who is LeBron James? After that, I watched one of his games and fell in love with the sport,” Tchatchoua said.
So at the age of 16, Tchatchoua left his spots at midfield and goalie on the pitch and gravitated to the basketball court. He had a strong performance at Luc Mbah a Moute Basketball Camp and followed that up by playing well at Basketball Without Borders Camp to earn a scholarship to NBA Global Academy at the Australian Institute of Sport.
“It’s a full-on, holistic program,” said Chris Ebersole, the NBA senior director who oversees the elite development of the NBA Global Academy. “We wanted to find players with a high amount of upside, give them the tools on and off the court to develop and put them on the pathway to ultimately a career in basketball. It’s academics, life skills, strength and conditioning, nutrition, putting all those pieces together and put them on a pathway, whether to college basketball, G League, other pro leagues around the world, and of course the NBA.”
Tchatchoua grew up speaking French, so the biggest thing he learned at the NBA Global Academy was how to communicate in English. While that may have been the most important thing he was taught, the other lessons helped prepare him for the path he is currently traveling.
Congratulations to Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua and Flo Thamba on their NCAA men's basketball championship victory with @BaylorMBB👏🏾 Tchamwa Tchatchoua🇨🇲 is a graduate of the NBA Academy and Thamba🇨🇩 attended Basketball Without Borders Africa in 2015 pic.twitter.com/qOUp8AlVVv
— NBA Africa (@NBA_Africa) April 6, 2021
“I learned how to be a pro on and off the floor,” Tchatchoua said. “I learned how to take care of my body and how to get some treatment. They taught me how I should always try to find the best way to do things. I learned the importance of getting your game better by watching film, having extra conversations and tracking your shooting. I feel like high school kids don’t watch film or take care of their body like that. Being there for two and half years helped me to learn how to be the athlete I am now.”
After growing up in Cameroon, continuing his matriculation in Canberra, Australia was a culture shock.
“It was different, as far as being around nature,” Tchatchoua said. “You could literally wake up in the morning and there would be a kangaroo next to your window.”
So after graduating from the NBA Global Academy program in 2018, Tchatchoua began his college career at UNLV. He hadn’t been playing basketball that long and UNLV was going to give him a chance to get on the floor and play through his mistakes.
He averaged 3.4 points and 3.5 rebounds in his one season in Las Vegas before transferring to Baylor.
His reasons for picking Baylor were simple: He wanted to play in a bigger conference and compete for a national championship.
He was a redshirt his first year in Waco, using that time to not only improve his skillset, but also work on his body.
“After picking Baylor, I realized how hard everyone was working,” Tchatchoua said. “Hard work is normal. The graduate assistants work as hard as us. The coaches are fired up. Everyone in the program make it seem like working hard is regular. Everybody does it. I fell in love with just getting better.
“I worked on my body, trimmed it down. I’m at six percent body fat. I’m more mobile on my feet, my vertical is better. I learned who I was and what I’m good at. I picked the brain of Freddie Gillespie, who played at Baylor and is now with the Toronto Raptors. He was my roommate so every night I would ask him a lot of questions. I never met a player as smart as him. I worked on my form, my handle, my screening. I worked on how I catch the ball in the post. That year was a big step for me as far as my basketball IQ.”
And just like that, “Everyday Jon” earned his moniker.
“Jonathan was one of our first players in the program when we started, the inaugural class of players in Australia,” Ebersole said. “He joined our program when we had no track record. He took a leap with us and we’ll always be grateful for him and the rest of those players in that inaugural program. To see it pay off for him is satisfying.”
Tchatchoua has two years of eligibility remaining at Baylor. The 21-year old averaged 6.4 points and 5.0 rebounds per game this season. It is not a surprise that he is already forming a plan to achieve his next goal.
“I want to be a more consistent guy,” Tchatchoua said. “I work hard but I need to improve my confidence in myself. That’s what I’m going to focus on this summer. To be an NBA player is a dream of mine. I’ll do whatever is necessary to get to that point.”