Bonke rowing in 2022. Picture courtesy of the Vanuatu Daily Post
We had the pleasure of discussing Eastern Arizona big man Anton Bonke's unique path to playing college basketball in the U.S. The 7'2 center grew up in Porta Vila, Vanuatua, and became a world-class rower but always had a passion for the game of basketball. Bonke discusses his path as well as the latest with his recruitment, which is picking up rapidly. Bonke is currently averaging 10ppg, 6rpg, and shooting 62% from the field for the Eastern Arizona Monsters. He logged career highs versus College of Southern Nevada in November of 23 points, 11 rebounds, and 9 blocks. Bonke's mid-season highlights can be seen here: https://www.hudl.com/video/3/20315396/6577c6273deaa116747f6402
CH: Tell me about growing up in Port Vila, Vanuatu.
AB: I moved to Port Vila when I was around 3 years old from The Netherlands after my parents split up. My mother always wanted to live on a tourist island, and after traveling around for a little while she decided to settle in Port Vila. My mother started looking for a job, and the schools were good on Vanuatu. She moved me and my brothers there, and we never left. Basketball was not really a sport that you could play competitively, but I was always passionate about it. I could watch the NBA on TV, and stream, but there wasn't anything other than Men's Leagues that I could play in once I got old enough.
CH: You had to be the tallest guy on the island right? I read that there were just under 50,000 people in your hometown. Do you still have family there?
AB: By a long shot, everyone knew I was not a native of the island. My family still lives there, I have two brothers ( 1 older, and 1 younger). My youngest brother is 13, and he is going to be very tall too, he loves basketball as well. My older brother is an interpreter for the government on the island.
CH: Are they able to watch you play on live stream?
AB: My entire family is able to watch my games on live stream, and they get together to watch me play for each game. It's really cool to have them be able to see me, so far away.
CH: I know you are a world-class rower, was that your first passion? Tell me about that, do you miss it?
AB: When we got old enough, my mother wanted to put me and my brothers in some type of organized sport and rowing is very big on the island. I would go to the gym to work on my conditioning and one of the world champion row coaches happened to be in the gym at that time. He suggested to my mom that I sign up, and that's where it all started. I got very good and competed internationally for Vanuatu. I always looked at rowing as a way to stay in shape and have good conditioning, but my passion was always basketball. I always knew that when I got old enough, I would try to come to the United States to earn a college scholarship, and basketball would be my way here.
CH: When did you start playing basketball?
AB: I didn't start playing in the Men's leagues until I was 16 when I graduated High School. I visited Australia, which isn't too far from Vanuatu, and got hooked up with a trainer named Jason Cadee. Cadee is a very well-known player on the Gold Coast. He now plays for the Adelaide 36ers in the NBL. He worked me out & started to send my video to some coaches in the US. It was then that I decided to come to the United States to stay with family friends in Davis, CA so that I could go play in front of scouts. I got to tour the campus at UC-Davis, and slowly my name started to spread.
CH: When did you come to the US for good?
AB: I came to the US in the Winter of 22/23. I spent alot of time at rec centers, and fitness centers playing pick up basketball. I hadn't gotten to do this back home, so it was alot of fun to just play with other good players.
CH: How did you end up at Eastern Arizona?
AB: I met a former player from EAC while playing pickup in Davis, and he connected me to Coach Turner. I had already planned to use my family friend's vehicle to tour some junior colleges that spring, and after receiving only "Walk On" opportunities, I decided to drive to Thatcher to meet Coach Turner. After visiting with him and his staff, they were the first to offer me a full scholarship & my Mom was supportive of the situation here. I drove back from Thatcher, AZ to Davis, CA after signing my papers. I had to go to Canada to secure my F1 visa, and once I had completed that paperwork I was able to come to EAC.
CH: What has been your first impression of college basketball?
AB: I really enjoy my teammates, and competing with them. Most of my training had been individually up to this point, so getting in the locker room, going through practice, and competing in games with them has been a lot of fun.
CH: What are you looking for in your 4 year college choice? What schools have you heard from the most?
AB: The attention that I've gotten has been surprising, and I'm taking it all in stride. I have a visit scheduled for Providence on 12/17/23, and I've gotten calls from a lot of other coaches who plan to come see me. The BYU coaches have come to EAC, and probably have shown the most interest. Oregon State, Colorado State, San Jose State, Kansas City, and Northern Arizona have also been in contact. I'm going to enjoy this season and see what the future holds after that.
Here's a link (with featured picture) with more info on Bonke's rowing career before coming to the U.S.: https://www.dailypost.vu/vanuatu_sports/rower-anton-bonke-makes-it-to-the-top-16-round-at-the-world-junior-rowing/article_6b0e265c-cda2-5bd9-91fe-9c95cb21b427.html