IN his wildest of dreams, Zimbabwe basketball captain Vitalis Chikoko might not have envisaged waking up one day being the French league’s best player.
On May 30, that seemingly far-fetched dream became a reality when the 29-year old received news of his treble, having been named Player of the Year, Centre of the Year and Cotonou Player of the Year in the EuroBasket All-French ProA 2020 Awards.
“I woke up to several messages from my agent; one of them telling me that I had just won a couple of awards,” said the Boulogne-Levallois Centre.
“I had a great season this year and the goal was to improve from my MVP runners-up finish last year.
“So this win was really huge in that it is the result of the work I put into improving my game,” he said.
To cap a fine season, Chikoko also paid the bride price for his high school sweetheart — Francisca Nyaradzo Nhongonhema.
In fact, news of the awards came on the day he was scheduled to be customarily married.
“Getting married was the highlight of my day. I had a pleasant trip to my wife’s homestead and the proceedings went well.
“They were nice to me, welcomed me and before long I was a married man,” he said.
Chikoko has known his soul-mate for the past eight years, having met during his days at high school.
“We will be celebrating our eighth anniversary on June 15, having met during my days at Churchill (Boys High).
“We went to Masvingo for a basketball tournament and it was during that trip that we became acquainted, exchanged numbers and started communicating.
“When she then moved to Harare, we then started dating and have been together since.
“This (lobola) was something I have been looking forward to for some time and I am glad that the day came and passed without a hitch.”
The couple has already started planning for a wedding, with a basketball theme not totally off the table.
“We have only started talking about a possible wedding with the wife and nothing is cast in stone or off the table yet.
“A basketball-themed wedding is possible,” he said.
With customary proceedings out of the way, Chikoko now turns his attention to the one thing that has eluded him since he left for Europe some nine years ago — a championship medal.
“I really thought that this would be the year. I have come close a couple of times — missing out in Italy and Germany.
“At Tenezis Verona, I went as far as the semi-finals, while at Bayern Munich we lost in Game Seven of the finals, so I really want that title.”
Still in his first season with Levallois, Chikoko carried the weight of the French capital side on his shoulders, and thought that this was to be his year.
“During our negotiations, the Levallois told me right off the bat that I was to be the franchise player of the team, and I carried that into the season.
“We were in playoff contention, fourth on the log table and were playing some good basketball. We won most of our big games and struggled against some of the smaller teams, but that is something that could have been rectified,” he said.
Sadly, coronavirus intervened and put a stop to all sporting activities, with only 25 games played.
Chikoko has an interesting tale to tell, as he is one of the fortunate few to have escaped the extreme lockdowns, not once, but twice.
“I left France literally hours before the lockdown began and went to visit my wife and relatives in South Africa.
“There, I also managed to escape the lockdown by a few hours and made my way back home. Here, I have had the pleasure of having all my family and close friends with me during the local lockdown.”
During that time, he has been busy working on his game in preparation for the resumption of basketball action in September.
“We managed to outvote the coaches and general managers, and will start playing again in September, which is when all sporting activities will resume in France.
“In the meantime, I have been working with coach Russy (Tawanda Nemutambwe), and working on my fitness, too.
“I spend about four hours a day either working out or on drills.
“My routine mostly revolves around a two-hour workout in the morning and another one in the evening.
“I know that after these awards, everyone will be gunning for me and I want to be ready,” he said.