Christ Koumadje picks shocking Wembanyama's quality, shares how EuroLeague stunned his friend

Donatas Urbonas
Senior Staff Writer
2022-11-10 12:30

A 2.24 m ALBA Berlin center Christ Koumadje didn't see another 7'4 player who handles and shoots the ball like Victor Wembanyama.

Credit: EuroLeague Basketball via GettyImages
Credit EuroLeague Basketball via GettyImages

"Yo, Zalgiris game was one of the craziest basketball I have ever watched," Christ Koumadje got texted by his friend.

Zalgiris returned from a historical 20-point deficit and beat ALBA behind 14 916 fans, 88-81.

Greens stormed the fourth quarter connecting eight 3-pointers, with fans lifting the roof of the Zalgirio arena.

Christ Koumadje

Christ  Koumadje
Christ  Koumadje
MIN: 17.66
PTS: 9.5 (76.92%)
REB: 5.83
As: 0.17
ST: 0
BL: 2
TO: 0.83
GM: 6

"That was the loudest I've ever heard in the arena," Koumadje, who had 6 points and one rebound for ALBA, admitted.

The sounds of roaring fanbases and the spotlight of the best European basketball scene looked like a mirage for Koumadje in January 2021, rolled in a warm winter jacket far away in Saratov.

It was his second team four months into his rookie year in Europe. He went scoreless in 5 of 6 ACB games with Estudiantes before he left Madrid as a short-term injury replacement.

However, in 4 of 5 VTB League games, the 2.24 m center didn't log more than 6 minutes of play for Avtodor Saratov. At the end of January, it was time to move on for him again.

His market position was unenviable. But one person already had an eye on this Chad giant from early on.

ALBA Berlin sports director Himar Ojeda had his usual trip to the Portsmouth Invitational tournament in Portland in 2019. It's an annual event where the best NCAA seniors are invited to show off in exhibition games for 4-5 days.

You can't say ALBA Berlin signs rookies every year, but Ojeda likes to make a list of potential future EuroLeague players.

One guy stood out with his speed for a big man, mobility, and exceptional size. That was Florida State senior Christ Koumadje.

Ojeda already had an eye on giants. In 2009, Ojeda brought Walter Tavares to Gran Canaria. The rest is history.

Christ Koumadje is a unique player who requires a particular environment. That includes a good project, the vision of the sports director, and the head coach who knows how to use 7-footers.

You First agency, which signed Koumadje after his unsuccessful Madrid and Saratov experience, took everything into account.

They already represented Tavares and another dominant EuroLeague giant Moustapha Fall, so they knew what it takes to put them on a successful path.

And guess what? Aito Garcia Reneses, ALBA head coach at that time, also coached Tavares in Gran Canaria in the 2014-15 season, the last before the NBA journey.

When Reneses saw Koumadje's footage, it brought him Gran Canaria memories. ALBA signed him to a team-friendly three-year deal.

"I'm a positive guy, and I feel everything happened for a reason. I'm a fighter. I have always been in tough situations in my life, so I was sure something good would happen. But honestly, I don't know where I would have ended up if not for ALBA," said Koumadje, who left Chad for Senegal due to political unrest in his native country when he was 16.

Koumadje already had ALBA's offer straight after his G league season with Delaware Blue Coats in 2020, when he won the defensive player of the year award.

"But after that year, I made some other decisions and went another way. It took me to go to Madrid, Russia, and then I realized I was still young. I knew that I would get only better in Berlin as a player instead of chasing whatever I was chasing. That was definitely a good decision," Koumadje admitted. "For Himar to still sign me after those two clubs where I failed, still giving a chance by signing me, really tells a lot."

Watching Mutombo and Tavares

Koumadje didn't pick up a basketball until he was 15. He also took baby steps in the EuroLeague before becoming a reliable starting center after 18 months.

Center blossomed against back-to-back EuroLeague champions Anadolu Efes Istanbul, putting up 12 points, 5 rebounds, a career-high 6 blocks, and 24 EFF in 19 minutes to push them to the edge 74-78.

A week later, he scored career-high 15 points and added 10 rebounds (20 EFF) in Valencia.

"Coming to ALBA was very crucial. Any other place I've been before wasn't pretty much a good fit. But coming into ALBA, with their coaching staff having a history of working with seven footers and discovering young players was different," Koumadje said to BasketNews.

Koumadje worked a lot on his body to gain more muscle and strength. He also worked on becoming as mobile on the court as possible for a 7'4 player. The difference was obvious.

That also included individual work in Berlin throughout the summer when foreigners weren't allowed to enter the USA after covid hit the world. So he called Carlos Frade to work on individual skills and spent there the entire month.

During the season, he had some great teachers next to him.

When he got more serious about basketball in Senegal, Koumadje watched many videos of Hakeem Olajuwon and Dikembe Mutombo.

He knew high-level basketball was also played in Europe, especially in the EuroLeague. He didn't know teams except for main clubs like Barcelona, Real Madrid, Fenerbahce Istanbul, or Panathinaikos Athens.

After joining ALBA, Aito Garcia Reneses showed him Tavares and other big fellas he coached in Barcelona.

"I watch the film and try to get a little bit of whoever plays well at the center position," Koumadje recalls. "They don't have to be my role models. But I just watch whatever they do good on pick and rolls, offense and defense. Playing against those guys in the EuroLeague, you must be ready for every game, no matter who you face. Everybody gives the best shot at you, so I just try to go to every game prepared, play with intensity, and leave it out on the court."

Credit BNS

How EuroLeague shocks Americans

Koumadje spent a lot of time working individually with Israel Gonzalez, who served as Aito's assistant at first. He made him work on some post-moves he hadn't seen before.

Koumadje's qualities were the same on both sides of the ocean, whether it was G League, 76ers training camp, Saratov, or ALBA. 

But the EuroLeague experience shocked even his close friends.

"When I moved there, it was definitely completely different. The basics are still the same for a guy like me, who is rebounding and blocking shots. But you also have to see how teams play defense and how games are officiated. It's an adjustment playing-wise and also even for people watching it," Koumadje pointed out.

"Even my friends in the states watch games, and they are confused. They're actually shocked watching the EuroLeague. One of my friends texted me yesterday that this Zalgiris game was one of the craziest basketball he had ever watched. And he is an NBA fan. People there are crazy about basketball in college, high school, or any level. But for him to say that the Zalgiris game was one of the craziest games he saw just tells how passionate and intense the game is played on this side," Koumadje concluded.

A big man shared his thoughts on how the EuroLeague could reach even more people outside Europe.

"I would say TV is the key. That's what really took the NBA contracts to another level. TV is the main thing," Koumadje said. "Right now, for you to be able to watch EuroLeague, you need the EuroLeague TV app. But if they could just get the main sports channel, not ESPN but something like that, where you can watch it on your cable in the living room, the best European level experience to show how in some countries people are crazy about that...

Zalgiris fans are a little bit more into it. Panathinaikos, Serbian fans are a little more into it than other fans. But if you can give an outlet where everybody can easily access the games, especially guys in the states... Because now, I have to give my friends my login for them to be able to watch the EuroLeague games. Because they have no idea."

Exceptional Wembanyama quality

There's another 7'4 big man in Europe who helps to promote European basketball to the United States market. It's a projected No. 1 pick of the 2023 NBA draft Victor Wembanyama who initiated an unprecedented NBA race for the first pick.

Koumadje, as another 7'4 giant, knows better than anybody what makes Wembanyama so unique at his height.

"People are shocked by the way he moves. But I know many people back home who are super tall and can move. It's just something in their blood. I also played soccer. Movement at his height, yes, many folks admire his moving. But that's not what really shocks me. It's the handles, the shot he's making. I never really saw anything like that. Nobody has really seen something like that," Koumadje laughs.

Asked about a challenge that Wembanyama might face in the NBA, Koumadje had just one temporary obstacle in his mind.

"I think the only thing is physicality. That's the only thing I think he might have problems with over there," Koumadje suggested. "But he's young, and he'll work on his body. I think Gobert had a similar body coming to the NBA. But Gobert is like double or triple bigger [now], so I'm sure he can definitely work on that. But that's pretty much the only thing."

Koumadje faced Wembanyama on the court last season. In a narrow win for ALBA, Koumadje had 2 points and three rebounds. A 17-year-old Wembanyama had 5 points and four rebounds in 20 minutes for ASVEL Villeurbanne.

"I remember when he was in ASVEL, he played pretty much as a four. In that game, I was matched with Youssoupha Fall and Kostas Antetokounmpo. I never really matched up with him. He's out there as a guard," Koumadje laughed. "So he was matched up with Luke Sikma."

Drawing NBA and EuroLeague interest

Koumadje could also make his NBA debut one day.

Per BasketNews sources, he had interest from the NBA teams for a two-way contract, and the best teams in the world still monitor him.

What's clear is that he is also getting closely monitored by the top EuroLeague clubs, as Koumadje is becoming a free agent next summer.

ALBA big man averages 9.5 points (2FG: 77.1%; FT: 75%), 5.8 rebounds, 2.2 blocks, and 14.5 PIR after six EuroLeague games.

He's not only leading the EuroLeague by blocked shots but also emerging as a game-changer by his presence in the paint.

With Koumadje on the court, ALBA's rebounding increased by 10.1%, and Berlin outscored their opponents by 2.1 points per 100 possessions, per BBallytics.

Once, he couldn't make 5-on-5 practice drills in Montverde Academy, where Ben Simmons and D'Angelo Russell took all the spotlight.

Now he's becoming one of the main guys for the EuroLeague club.

"The next step for me is just to keep growing as a player. I don't really want to put any end goals. Just keep growing, keep playing. The goal is just to keep improving in every game to get better," Koumadje wasn't very keen on speaking about his future.

Koumadje, 26, just wants to enjoy the current ride with ALBA Berlin.

"The way ALBA works is definitely unusual for any level I've been in. Not even in college," Koumadje revealed.

"They're good at development, but they also want to win. They help you develop your skills, whatever you need to work on, so you can help the team. But the other thing that is also helping the team to be successful is the chemistry we have as a team, including the structure of the coaches, the staff, Himar Ojeda, and the culture that really puts everything."

"There's pressure already. I think the staff also understands there's already national pressure. You have to win. For us, as players, it's also important to win games. But they're trying not to put other pressure on you. Because I feel like, at this point, we are all grown men. If somebody is just out there shouting and yelling, it doesn't really have anything to do with success. I think the culture is definitely helping us to be successful as a team," Koumadje concluded.

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