Thursday, June 28, 2018 | 2 a.m.
When Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua signed with UNLV in the spring, it sent Rebels fans swarming to the internet to scour for clips of the little-known big man. A Cameroon native and a somewhat late convert to basketball, Tchamwa Tchatchoua played most recently at the NBA Global Academy in Australia, so he was not exactly a star in recruiting circles.
There was a reason he attracted the attention of UNLV coach Marvin Menzies, however. Tchamwa Tchatchoua came up through the same Basketball Without Borders system that produced NBA-bound Cameroonians such as Joel Embiid, Luc Mbah a Moute and Pascal Siakam. Menzies has long monitored the recruiting pulse of the international scene, with a particular focus on African prospects — he plucked Siakam from the BWB camp and brought him to New Mexico State, where Siakam developed into a first-round draft pick.
Is there any chance Tchamwa Tchatchoua can reach the lofty heights of his famous countrymen? He’s got a long way to go, but it may not be completely out of the question.
The first thing that stands out when watching Tchamwa Tchatchoua is his uncanny athleticism. For someone who stands 6-foot-8 with a developing, muscular build, Tchamwa Tchatchoua is capable of amazing athletic displays. He is an explosive leaper and can play above the basket on offense and defense. He also plays with quick-twitch qualities, and he can move his feet and cover a lot of ground for someone his size.
His highlight video from his season at the NBA Global Academy is stuffed with ridiculous plays:
Of course, highlight videos are highlight videos. When watching full games, Tchamwa Tchatchoua’s skill set shows plenty of room for improvement.
In his highlight reel, Tchamwa Tchatchoua looks dominant when rising up for monster slams. In actual games, however, it’s clear that the young big man has to work on his touch around the basket. When he gets a chance to finish from point-blank range, his athleticism is enough to get the ball through the hoop; when he is forced to use touch, he often looks raw:
Tchamwa Tchatchoua wasn’t asked to do much in the offensive system run by the NBA Global Academy. In halfcourt sets he was mostly positioned in the short corner, away from the action. When shots went up, he crashed the glass and used his energy and athleticism to earn extra possessions for his team, either by grabbing rebounds himself or engaging opposing players and clearing space for his teammates to grab them:
Dunks and offensive rebounding appears to be the extent of Tchamwa Tchatchoua’s offensive game for now. He didn’t display any ball-handling ability in the games available online, and his jump shot is rudimentary at best.
When Tchamwa Tchatchoua was asked to do more within the offense, he struggled with some of the basics. His ability to read the court and execute passes is nonexistent, and he is not much of a screen-setter at this point in his career. Little things like that should improve with experience and the top-notch big-man coaching that Menzies can provide. For now, flaws like that speak to Tchamwa Tchatchoua’s overall inexperience and lack of awareness on the court:
The area where Tchamwa Tchatchoua figures to make his earliest impact is on the defensive end. His pure athleticism makes him a potential stud rim protector, and he’s light enough on his feet to disrupt plays all over the court.
He showed a pretty good feel for defending the post and challenging shots at the Global Academy, but it looks like he’s better on the move, making athletic plays. When he’s stationed in the halfcourt, reading plays as they unfold, there are times when he gets caught flat-footed:
The same holds true for his man-to-man defense. When Tchamwa Tchatchoua is in motion, he glides around the court like few players his size. At his peak, he’ll be able to switch onto smaller players and engulf them on the perimeter effortlessly. He gets in trouble when he stops moving his feet:
Tchamwa Tchatchoua projects to be a good rebounder. As aggressive as he is when attacking the offensive glass, he’s fairly polished when it comes to defensive rebounding. He doesn’t just rely on his athleticism and leaping ability — when shots went up, Tchamwa Tchatchoua consistently looked for guys to block out. That led to a lot of clean rebounds not just for Tchamwa Tchatchoua, but for his teammates as well:
There is obviously a lot of development ahead for Tchamwa Tchatchoua. His game is unrefined, but there are enough high-level skills in his tool belt to project him as a Division-I contributor if he continues to evolve and progress.
It may take a couple of years, but that’s where Menzies will come in. He has a long track record of polishing big men and getting the best out of them, and Tchamwa Tchatchoua seems like the type who will take to coaching. He plays with high energy and a strong motor, hitting the deck, running the floor hard and chasing loose balls:
If Tchamwa Tchatchoua brings that same attitude to the practice court, UNLV may have a player on its hands. It won’t happen immediately — but with a little patience, Tchamwa Tchatchoua projects as an impact frontcourt defender who can pitch in on offense with putbacks and by running the floor for dunks.
Editor’s Note: The Sun’s Mike Grimala will break down each new incoming recruit from UNLV's 2018 class.