COLLEGE: Texas A&M
VITALS: 6'10", 235 lbs.
YEAR DRAFTED: 2009 by LA Lakers (Round 2, Pick 59)
RIGHTS HELD BY: Los Angeles Lakers
Draft Rights Retained #24 had the first stashed player of the team picking second on June 25th: the Los Angeles Lakers. Today's has the other in former Texas A&M Aggie Chinemelu Elonu. A big man from Africa who came to the United States for college and has played in many a country since his drafting? Sound familiar? I guess the Lakers had their type back in the day.
Chinemelu Elonu was born in Lagos, Nigeria. Lagos was the birth home as well to one great number one overall pick (Hakeem Olajuwon) and one not so great (Michael Olowokandi). Elonu would have to scratch and claw to even draw comparisons to the latter. Coming from a big basketball family though (all his siblings play collegiately or professionally), he wouldn't be making a name for himself any other way.
He made waves on the Houston AAU scene after his family emigrated to Texas. He would eventually make an even bigger name for himself at Alief Elsik High School, the same high school that produced Rashard Lewis. I assure you this entire profile won't be listing people that are from the same places as Chinemelu Elonu. He would draw scholarship offers from big programs nationwide such as UCONN, Texas, and Georgia Tech. He would eventually give his commitment to darkhorse candidate New Mexico State, although he'd transfer to Texas A&M rather quickly. There he would develop his talents as a basketball player.
Elonu redshirted his first year at College Station. In his freshman and sophomore years, he'd struggle to find consistency as his playing time was extremely limited made worst by a coaching change between the two years. He averaged only two points and two rebounds a game as a freshman and only bumped up each statistic by one the following season. He would finally come into his own as a junior as he broke through into Mark Turgeon's starting lineup for the first time.
He started 31 of 34 games for the Aggies and set personal bests across the board in field goal percentage (.665), points per game (9.8), rebounds per game (7.3), and blocks per game (1.6). The Aggies would get a nine seed in the NCAA Tournament and draw BYU in the opening round. Foul trouble plagued Elonu but he was still able to snare 10 boards as A&M advanced. Him and his fellow Aggies were not as lucky in round two as eventual Final Four participants UCONN laid the wood to them 92-66. Elonu would sit most of the second half with four fouls and score just two points. Though his college basketball career ended on a sour note, Elonu graduated with a degree in agricultural leadership and development. Farming would have to wait though as the NBA beckoned.
The Lakers used the second to last pick in the 2009 NBA Draft on Elonu. They were coming off their 15th World Championship, so it was a long shot that Elonu was going to break through and make a stacked Lakers' roster. His chances were further dampened by a lackluster showing in the summer league. That made his choice to take his talents overseas that much easier. His first stop would be Spain.
Chinemelu signed his first professional contract with CAI Zaragoza. It was a two-year deal with a standard opt-out clause that would allow him to return to the US if at any time during his tenure the Lakers were willing to sign him. Elonu was a super sub for Zaragoza averaging six points and rebounds per game as they were promoted back to the Spanish top tier. They had been relegated the previous season. Elonu exercised his opt-out of the Zaragoza deal but it was not to come back to the Lakers. Instead, he joined Panionios in Greece.
It was supposed to be a great opportunity for Elonu to play in one of Europe's most heralded leagues. Instead, he barely got the chance to experience the finer things about the Greek game. He was released from his contract less than halfway into the season. He could have hung his head facing rejection this early on in his career but Elonu instead moved on to greener pastures. He would get that chance in France (remind unintended) with top club Pau-Orthez.
The power forward proved he could do just as well from the starting lineup than as an energy guy off the bench. He started in 22 of his 30 LNB Pro A appearances for Pau-Orthez. He averaged 10.4 points and 8.3 rebounds in those contests. He also made his international competition debut for the club as they participated in the Eurochallenge, European basketball's third tier competition behind the EuroCup and EuroLeague. They were ousted early from the tournament, but not due to a lack of effort from the Nigerian. 12.8 points, 8.6 rebounds, and a professional-best 1.6 blocks per game weren't enough though to keep Elonu's team in the show for more than five matches. His showing both domestically and in Europe drew the eye of Tofaş in Turkey as well as the Lakers. Sadly, his second stint with Los Angeles in the summer league once left him sans an NBA contract. However, he did have a three-year deal waiting for him this time.
Elonu shuffled between starter and sixth man in Turkey as well as between teams as the terms of his contract allowed him to fill in his offseasons with the club playing in other leagues. The first year saw Chinemelu take his sojourn to the Far East with China's Jiangsu Dragons. The second offseason marked his return to his first professional club, CAI Zaragoza. All the while, he put up solid numbers for his home club Tofaş. In three seasons, he averaged nearly 11 points and 8 rebounds per game across all competitions. He brought a sense of stability to a club that had anything but that in recent years. A back-to-back champion in the TBL at the end of the 90's, Tofaş had fought through financial difficulty as well as several relegation spells. Back now in the top flight, Elonu was a good soldier for the team. They made the EuroChallenge in every year he was at the club. However, he moved on from the club earlier this month.
Chinemelu took his talents back to the States (or at least a US territory) in the Baloncestro Superior Nacional (BSN) with Capitanes de Arecibo. Paired up with a fellow Nigerian and former first round pick Ike Diogu, Elonu is part of a killer backup team for Capitanes mainstays (and former NBAers as well) Peter John Ramos and Daniel Santiago. His debut didn't go so hot though. He had as many fouls as rebounds (4) and went 0-2 from both the field and the line in 10 otherwise forgettable minutes. There is nowhere to go but up for Elonu even more so being so close to his rights holders in the US. Instead of losing a day in transit, Elonu could easily join the Lakers on a East Coast trip on a moment's notice. We'll see if that day comes. I just hope if it does the Lakers don't make him take his physical in public like they did in Turkey.
Thanks for reading the twenty-fifth installment of Draft Rights Retained right here on Bleeding Your Colors! I hope you enjoyed it and look forward to bringing you more wacky stories of players who the NBA has long since forgotten, but not their draft rights. Stay locked for a new profile until the list is exhausted. For more of me, check out my Twitter @TREVORutley and the official Bleeding Your Colors Twitter @B3WHYC3. For less of me, "accidentally" drop your computer on the ground during the Running of the Bulls.
Image Credits: Elonu Dunk (court-side.com), Elonu Physical (ahaber.com)