Christian Koloko didn't start playing basketball until he was 11 years old, in Cameroon.
Koloko eventually moved to the US as a teenager and played at Sierra Canyon alongside several future NBA players.
Koloko is now an NBA Draft prospect, learning under the tutelage of Scottie Pippen, and set on becoming an impact player.
Christian Koloko went from barely playing basketball to preparing for the Draft under the tutelage of all-time NBA great Scottie Pippen.
Koloko, a 22-year-old draft prospect out of Arizona, met Pippen while attending Sierra Canyon, an elite prep school in LA, where Pippen's son, Scotty Pippen Jr. (also a 2022 Draft prospect), went to school.
It's been a remarkable journey for the Cameroon-born Koloko, who didn't play basketball until he was 11. Even then, he didn't play consistently.
"That was just for fun at the beginning," Koloko told Insider. "You know, just one time every week or every two weeks. Because where I'm from, soccer is the main sport. We don't really play basketball that much. But I really started playing basketball when I was 16, 17."
Koloko grew to love basketball while out-growing soccer — literally.
"I was too tall," the 7-foot-1 Koloko said, laughing, of playing his country's favorite sport.
Koloko moved from Cameroon to California when he was in high school, first playing at Birmingham High in Lake Balboa, California. While playing on the AAU circuit, he became friends with Pippen Jr. and Kenyon Martin Jr., two sons of former NBA players who were attending Sierra Canyon.
With a referral from Pippen and Martin, Koloko transferred to Sierra Canyon, where he became teammates with Pippen Jr., Martin Jr., and Cassius Stanley — three future NBA players.
It wasn't an easy transition for Koloko. He went from practicing once a week in Cameroon to practicing every day after school, all while trying to learn English.
"It was a big change, and my English wasn't really good. Even the basketball terms and all that, it wasn't really good," Koloko said, adding that he often had to ask his teammates and coaches for help.
Koloko developed quickly, however, and graduated as a four-star recruit and committed to Arizona.
After playing limited minutes his freshman and sophomore years, Koloko made a giant leap his junior year, averaging 12.6 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 2.8 blocks per game. He won the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and Pac-12 Most Improved Player.
Koloko said he grew more confident his junior year, thanks in part to a more typical summer where his training wasn't as impacted by the pandemic.
Now, with the draft approaching, the connections Koloko has made on his improbable journey have paid off, as he now regularly trains with Pippen Jr. and his Hall of Fame father.
"We're getting ready for the Draft, I'm working with Scottie everyday," Koloko said. "Scottie Pippen is in the gym every day, just giving us advice and talking to us about what you do and what not to do during this process."
Koloko said Pippen has been most helpful at reminding Koloko to have fun and compete hard.
Beyond that, however, Koloko has a steep learning curve to prepare for playing center in the NBA — an increasingly complex job that requires multiple skills.
"Your job is gonna be to set screens and roll and be able to catch lobs, be able to make a decision of the pick-and-roll. Or if your point guard get trapped or something like that, be able to get the ball, put the ball on the ground and make a decision. And defensively, the center is always a captain."
Koloko is currently a rim-running center who can block shots. However, he feels he can do more, and there is evidence to back it up. In an NCAA Tournament win over Wright State, Koloko put up 17 points, 13 rebounds, 6 assists, and 5 blocks.
"I feel like I got more to show to people," said Koloko. "Like I said, I started playing basketball kind of late and I'm still learning the game. I feel like I have a really high basketball IQ, and I'm a pretty smart player."
Koloko said he doesn't model his game after any other players specifically, but said he frequently watches film of Rudy Gobert, Clint Capela, and Draymond Green. He also sees some parallels to Giannis Antetokounmpo, a late-bloomer from a foreign country, who arrived in the NBA with raw potential.
Koloko said he wouldn't hesitate to ask Antetokounmpo for advice if he plays against him next season.
"His journey, just even his development, how he got to league when he was 18 and you can see how his body transformed, and who he is now as a player.
"I feel like that will really help me."
Koloko has his eyes set on becoming an impact player in the NBA. His development over the past decade suggests he will.
"I feel like sky is a limit for me," he said. "I know I'm gonna continue to get better, because that's something I do — I love being in the gym, and I love getting better."
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