By Will Chamblee | Sports Writer
Born in Douala, Cameroon, basketball wasn’t on Baylor sophomore forward Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua’s radar during his childhood. In fact, Tchamwa Tchatchoua didn’t even play organized basketball until he was 15-years-old.
Six years later and Tchamwa Tchatchoua is the first man off the bench for one of the best college basketball programs in the nation, averaging 8.2 points and 6.4 rebounds in 21 minutes per game.
But the road to get here for Tchamwa Tchatchoua has been long and winding, spanning three different countries. Tchamwa Tchatchoua left his native country to go play basketball in Australia as part of the NBA Global Academy program as he pursued his dream of playing basketball in America.
“In Africa, it’s more about getting a scholarship to go to the U.S.,” Tchamwa Tchatchoua said. “My dad was all-in to get a scholarship in the U.S. I told him it was my dream.”
Tchamwa Tchatchoua has accomplished his dream, finding a place at Baylor after a short stint at UNLV where he has been christened “Everyday Jon” by his teammates. Tchamwa Tchatchoua earned the nickname due to his tremendous work ethic and spirit, which he attributes to his teammates around him.
“To be honest with you, that mindset comes from my teammates. I feel like they are rubbing off on me,” Tchamwa Tchatchoua said. “I don’t think I should be the only one to have that ‘everyday’ nickname. They’re the ones who make me better every day. They’re the ones who push me hard every day. They’re the ones who give me motivation every day. So, whatever you get from me is what they have been putting around me.”
Tchamwa Tchatchoua’s journey is just getting started. His time at Baylor has been defined by growth. The 6-foot, 8-inch, 245-pound sophomore didn’t come to Waco as the rim-rocking forward he is now. Tchamwa Tchatchoua took a redshirt season when he first arrived to Waco in 2019, something that has been proven to be a recipe for success by former and current Baylor players.
“That redshirt year, it was actually very important for me,” Tchamwa Tchatchoua said. “It allowed me to get used to the program. Just get comfortable with the guys. Work on my body, work on my IQ, work on my basketball skills.”
Even during Tchamwa Tchatchoua’s redshirt season, his immense potential was clear to see. Teammates were constantly impressed by his athleticism, energy and the joy with which he played the game.
“One of the most athletic players I’ve ever played with or have seen,” former teammate Tristan Clark said. “I feel like he’s going to surprise a lot of people. He’s definitely a good fit for the team.”
Tchamwa Tchatchoua hasn’t stopped growing as a basketball player either, filling in for Freddie Gillespie’s role, alongside teammate and fellow forward Flo Thamba, from last season as the anchor of one of the top defenses in the nation.
Filling Gillespie’s role, which was integral in last season’s success, wasn’t easy for Tchamwa Tchatchoua. The growing pains were evident in Baylor’s opening game against Louisiana this season where at times both Tchamwa Tchatchoua and Thamba struggled to make the right ball screen calls.
“The thing about Freddie Gillespie is that he never missed a ball screen call, and he not only guarded the ball, but he knew where his man was and then when he was off the ball, he could guard two people,” associate head coach Jerome Tang said after Baylor’s opening game against Louisiana. “Right now, Flo and Jonathan, they can only guard their guy, and about 80% of the time they get the right ball screen coverage call. That’s a big thing to replace right now, and the only way you can get good at that or better at that is experience. Jonathan and Flo are going to be a work-in-progress through the season.”
But in a testament to Tchamwa Tchatchoua’s work ethic, he’s improved into one of the better defenders in the Big 12 in just half a season. Tchamwa Tchatchoua said his improvement has come from his ability to “mirror the ball” and “anticipate plays” better, a skill he has gained through game experience.
Despite his relative lack of experience in basketball, Tchamwa Tchatchoua seems to have taken to Gillespie’s role quickly, serving as one of the backbones in Baylor’s defense while averaging a block a game and 3.9 defensive rebounds so far this season. Either way, Tchamwa Tchatchoua doesn’t see his lack of experience as a disadvantage.
“Because I haven’t played the game of basketball for a lot of years, I just feel like I still have that joy — that little kid mentality, just having fun out there,” Tchamwa Tchatchoua said. “That’s probably why I play with so much energy.”
Baylor will continue to lean on Tchamwa Tchatchoua as it hopes to make a run in the NCAA Tournament, however, “Everyday John” isn’t focused on the tournament or the expectations that surround the Baylor program. He’s just focused on the next game.
“We are playing during uncertain times,” Tchamwa Tchatchoua said, “Every game is a blessing.”