ALBA Berlin center Landry Nnoko was not among the big names people were expecting to impact the opening of the new Turkish Airlines EuroLeague season.
Although he was a part-time starter and solid rebounder for ALBA as it reached Game 3 of last season's 7DAYS EuroCup Finals, Nnoko averaged just 17 minutes after being signed in the middle of last season and surpassed 20 minutes just three times.
On Friday, however, as ALBA faced Zenit St Petersburg in its home opener, Nnoko was near perfect in his 20-minute EuroLeague debut. He certainly was as a shooter, making 7 of 7 two-point shots and 2 of 2 free throws. Five other players didn't miss any shots in Round 1, but none of them scored more than 6 points. Nnoko finished with 16, which is 5 more than his highest scoring total in 15 EuroCup games last season with ALBA and almost triple his average of 5.9 points.
And if that wasn't enough. Nnoko was the top rebounder for his team, as well, pulling 2 offensive and 5 defensive boards as ALBA out-rebounded Zenit 42-32. His 3 turnovers and 5 fouls lowered Nnoko's performance index rating to 19, but that was still his best in European competition with ALBA.
Nnoko's path to the EuroLeague was not the usual one. Born in the Cameroonian capital of Yaounde, he played soccer until age 13. A couple of years later – just a decade ago – he picked up a basketball when a hoop was installed in his neighborhood. Soon, his cousin Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, who had made his way from Yaounde to the NBA, gave him help in learning how to play.
After high school and university in the United States, Nnoko turned pro in Europe with Pesaro of Italy, then spent a season in the NBA G-League before returning to Europe for Sakarya of Turkey for a couple of months before ALBA came calling.
Helping ALBA reach the EuroCup Finals last season and making a stellar EuroLeague debut in the team's resounding 85-65 victory over Zenit in Round 1 point to even more good things to come from the 25-year-old Nnoko.