The Sunday Mail
Deputy Sports Editor
The local basketball family yesterday temporarily forgot the misery wrought by Covid-19 when they joined national team captain, Vitalis Chikoko, in celebrating the unprecedented feat by a local to bag three awards in a European league.
The 29-year-old Boulogne-Levallois Centre scooped three gongs after being named Player of the Year, Centre of the Year and Cotonou Player of the Year at the EuroBasket All-French ProA 2020 Awards.
Chikoko also made it onto the All-French ProA first team, alongside Axel Julien (Dijon), Norris Cole (Monaco), J.J O’Brien (Monaco) and Livio Jean-Charles (ASVEL).
This milestone comes after the former Prince Edward High student’s third season in France, during which he has won a plethora of MVP and Player of the Month awards.
He also has a number of France All-Star appearances under his belt.
He recently surpassed the 12 000-point mark in the French ProA League.
The French government has since relaxed coronavirus restrictions, as the overall risk level has been downgraded in many parts of the European country.
Basketball was one of the sports that were affected the most when the French ProA League was suspended when it had reached the homestretch.
Only 25 games of the regular season had been played.
At that time, Chikoko’s Levallois were perched fourth on the table with an 18-7 record, most of which had been contributed by Vita.
The Zimbabwe skipper was already in the MVP conversation, shooting 15.4 points, seven rebounds per game and had a 60 percent efficiency.
Only teammate Donta Smith had better statistics.
The news of Chikoko’s triumph in France has been greeted with excitement back home.
Basketball Union of Zimbabwe president Joe Mujuru, national team coach Addison Chiware and former teammate Simbarashe Mungomezi, led the chorus of praise for the captain.
“Vita’s awards are a point of pride for both Zimbabwe and the entire African continent,” said Mujuru.
“His achievements will go a long way in motivating and inspiring some of the basketball youngsters here in Zimbabwe and on the continent as a whole.
“In these trying times, what with the coronavirus, we all need something to cheer about and Chikoko’s achievements have done just that,” he said.
Mujuru said he was not at all surprised that Chikoko has soared to such great heights.
“Vitalis has always been a world-class athlete, and from his days at Prince Edward High all the way to his time with Raiderz, Mbare Bulls, right up to his travels to Germany and now France, he has always stood out.
“We took him to Tunisia for the AfroBasket, back in 2015, and he was one of the top players then, and he did it again last year when we played and beat both Zambia and Mozambique.
“These awards are just the icing on the cake,” he said.
Mujuru’s sentiments were echoed by the senior national team coach Chiware.
“Yes, we are extremely proud and excited for Vitalis. He is a true Zimbabwean and African icon of the game, and he surely is destined for great things.
“It came as no surprise when I heard the news, as Vitalis is a world-class player and an absolute pleasure to coach.
“When he is focused, you don’t really need to tell him much as he is one of the best players I have coached, and (he) has unparalleled work ethic,” Chiware said.
Mungomezi message to his former senior national teammate was “short and sweet”.
“Congratulations to the young man; no one deserves this more than him.
“We are all proud of you and believe the sky is the limit,” he said.
Chikoko is a former high school champion and three-peat Harare Basketball Association title winner with Mbare Heat.
He left the country to follow his dream to break into the NBA in 2011.
Since then his talents have taken him to Germany, where he played for ASC Gottingen and TBB Tier between 2011-2015, after which he spent two more seasons in Italy with Pallacanestro Reggiana (2015) and Tenezis Verona (20115-16), before finding a home in the French ProA League.
Chikoko also had a short stint with Bayern Munich (2016) and went undrafted in the 2013 edition of the NBA, among other highlights.
He is only in his first season with Levallois, having spent the previous two with Élan Béarnais Pau-Lacq-Orthez (2017-19).
In France, Chikoko has two French All-Star appearances and now three awards, making his time in the European country arguably one of his most successful stints ever.