Every Turkish Airlines EuroLeague season features players who make their debuts in the competition and end up wowing the fans. But very few exploded onto the scene as impressively in 2019-20 as Tonye Jekiri did.
The Nigerian big man played college basketball with Anadolu Efes Istanbul star Shane Larkin and he was named the finals MVP of the Belgian League in 2018, when he helped Oostende complete the league and cup double. But he had essentially zero exposure on the European stage, collecting two appearances in the FIBA Europe with Oostende and no international games with Bandirma or Gaziantep, his stops before and after his season in Belgium. LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne noticed his physically imposing stature at 2.12 meters, which helped him finish second in rebounds in Belgium and Turkey in consecutive years, and brought the big man to France.
Jekiri wasted no time showcasing his game in Round 1, picking up 13 points on 8 shot attempts and grabbing 10 rebounds against Olympiacos Piraeus and his opponent that night, Nikola Milutinov. The two would challenge each other for most average rebounds the rest of the season. By creating several and-one opportunities, Jekiri showed in that debut that he was a force around the basket, able to work his way to the rim and finish with contact. He followed that with 15 points and 12 rebounds -- 7 of them on offense -- in Round 2 against Panathinaikos OPAP Athens. Jekiri continued to dominate around the basket, twice picking up 5 offensive rebounds in a game and registering two more double-doubles for a total of four in his first five games! He added a monster 18-point, 19-rebound showing in Round 8 at Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade and was averaging 11.0 points, 11.5 rebounds and a 19.9 index rating through eight rounds. That left many teams wondering how they could have missed out so clearly on the 25-year-old big man.
Jekiri knows how to use his body around the basket and has a solid understanding of how to position himself against opposing players at both ends of the court. He shot 57.1% from the field through that point of the season and also could put the ball on the floor to get to the basket if a lane opened. Jekiri also showed that he could be trusted handling the ball, dishing out 14 assists and committing just 4 turnovers in the first six games of the season. That included a stretch of four games without no turnovers at all.
Although his numbers dipped some after that, Jekiri ended up averaging 8.7 points while shooting 52.3% from the field to go with 7.5 rebounds, 1.3 assists and just 1.1 turnovers in nearly 24 minutes a game. He ended up ranking second among all EuroLeague players in rebounds, behind only Milutinov, and third with 2.7 offensive rebounds. Those are solid numbers for a player making his EuroLeague debut, and Jekiri turned that production into a two-year deal with TD Systems Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz. The new 2020-21 season will be a big one for him, as Jekiri aims to reward that confidence and show the same drive that made him one of the revelations of last season.