Demons add two international players to 2019-20 squad

The Northwestern State Demons basketball program has added two international prospects to its 2019-20 roster, 6-9 Greek forward Robert Chougkaz and 6-5 Israeli swingman Jovan Zelenbaba.

Mike McConathy, preparing for his 21st season as NSU’s head coach, announced the signees Tuesday.

The Demons began their 2019 recruiting class last month with a pair of junior college players, 6-7 forward Jamaure Gregg of Cochise (Ariz.) College and 6-2 sharpshooter Jairus Roberson from Trinity Valley (Texas) Community College.

“We had unique opportunities to connect with Robert and Jovan because of some deep-rooted relationships our coaching staff has, and as we evaluated these young men it became obvious that both were very good fits for the NSU basketball program,” said McConathy.

Despite playing basketball for only the past five years, Chougkaz (6-9, 200), a native of Athens and student at Papacharalampio Private School, was one of 20 Greeks selected for the 18 and under Junior National Team. While playing for his junior club team, Peristeri BC, he had a 43-point game including four 3-pointers.

“Robert brings a unique skill set and background to Demon basketball as he has rapidly developed into one the most impressive forwards in the country of Greece,” said McConathy. “After only playing competitively for a few years he has risen to elite status, working regularly with the under 18 national team in Greece. He adds depth to our front court with his 6-9 frame, length, footwork, acumen, and offensive skills. Robert has a tremendous feel for reading defenses, has outstanding footwork in the post and can stretch defenses with his soft touch from the perimeter.”

Also a competitor in soccer, swimming and tae kwon do, Chougkaz is the son of two former professional basketball players. His father, Chris, is a pro coach in the Czech Republic. His mother, Soultana, played 23 professional seasons.

“He’s got the game in his genes and it’s beginning to show. Robert has played on a variety of club teams and national teams giving him experience versus diverse talent levels,” said McConathy. “He is eager, hungry and passionate to learn, and although it may take some time, we expect him to adapt well to NCAA Division I basketball. He fits in well with our fast-paced style of play and he will thrive in our concepts of sprint, space and share.”

Zelenbaba (6-5, 190) will enter NSU as a 22-year-old freshman who has served two years of compulsory service in the Israeli military. The native of Kfar Blun, Israel played last season at Combine Academy in Charlotte, North Carolina, averaging 14 points, seven rebounds and four assists and shooting 41 percent on 3-pointers and 54 percent overall.

“Our program has gotten better today by adding Jovan to our team,” said McConathy. “He brings shooting, toughness, and a skill set to our program that we were trying to pick up in this recruiting class. Having served in the military and attending Combine Academy, his age and experiences will add maturity to our group.”

His perimeter scoring helped Combine to knock off the nation’s No. 7-ranked high school team, IMG Academy this past season.

“Jovan is a very unselfish and a team player,” said McConathy. “He has the ability to make 3-point shots, which addresses a need in our program. He is very athletic with good size. He runs the floor very well and his strength allows him to finish plays in the paint.

“One of his best attributes is his ability to pass the ball. His skill set and size allow him to rebound and start our fast break opportunities. Defensively, he can guard multiple positions on the court because of his size, athleticism, and strength.”

During his 16 seasons as head coach at Bossier Parish Community College, McConathy coached the new Demon’s father, Andre Zelenbaba, in 1991-92. The senior Zelenbaba finished his college career at New Orleans and played professionally overseas.

“Jovan is a very driven individual with high character and a huge passion for the game, just like his dad,” said McConathy. “He comes very well-prepared to be successful in our program both on and off the court. We look forward to helping him achieve his team and personal goals at the NCAA Division 1 level. His passion and work ethic will add to the ‘finish strong’ culture of our program.”

McConathy said the Demons anticipate adding to their signing class soon.