Espoir’s Ngandu: How I ended up in Rwanda

Bienvenu Ngandu has been the best defensive player in the national basketball league for two seasons running. In the just concluded campaign, he was named the Most Valuable Player after guiding Espoir to a second successive league and playoff titles.
Ngandu in action at a previous game
Ngandu in action at a previous game

Bienvenu Ngandu has been the best defensive player in the national basketball league for two seasons running. In the just concluded campaign, he was named the Most Valuable Player after guiding Espoir to a second successive league and playoff titles.

The new MVP, who replaces his teammate Aristide Mugabe, was born on August 28, 1985 in the DR Congo capital Kinshasa to Mbanze Jamarie and Ilangi Odette. He is the first born in a family of seven; three boys and four girls.

The 28-year-old attended EP4 Yolo North for his primary and Lycee Matonge for his secondary education respectively, both in Kinshasa. He says he started playing basketball in primary and was the team captain for his secondary school team.

“After my secondary school studies, I joined BC Yolo team. But I didn’t stay long as shortly after I signed for DCMP and later in 2003 I played for Onatra Matadi before crossing to Mulokayi team (all of DRC) in the same year.

“I also played in the Afrobasketball U-20 championships in Senegal,” Ngandu disclosed in an interview with Saturday Sport on Thursday.

In 2005, Kabinda club of Angola signed him but life wasn’t all that good in Luanda.

He struggled to settle in the team and played one season before returning to Congo where he featured for BC Onatra.

Ngandu is engaged and plans to marry his long-time fiancé (names withheld on his request) sometime early next year, he told this paper.

How APR spotted him

After winning two Congolese national championships with BC Onatra, the six-foot Ngandu also played a key role for the Kinshasa-based side at the Fiba Afro-basket Club Championships in Angola from where he was spotted by APR couch Cliff Owour.

Rwanda’s APR were in Group A, while BC Onatra were on Group B and the two teams met in the quarter-finals which APR won 64-41. The tournament was won by Angolan side 1º de Agosto, who beat archrivals Petro Atlético 61–53 in the final.

“We (BC Onatra) played against APR at the African club championship in Angola, and it was after that game that the couch (Owuor) handpicked me, that is how I ended up in Rwanda,” Ngandu recalls.

The bully defensive player joined APR in 2008 where he joined a host of countrymen like Mike Buzangu and Kami Kabange among others. He went on to help the army side win the Rwandan championship in his debut season.

In the same year, APR played and won the Fiba Zone V Club Championships in Ethiopia which qualified them for the Fifa Afro-basket Club Championships in Tunisia.

Happiest moment

In 2009, after winning the national championship for the second time in a row, Ngandu helped APR, then the dominant force in Rwandan club basketball, to win a bronze medal at the Afro-basketball Club Championships held in Kigali.

“That is still the happiest moment of my life… (so far), because Afro-basketball club is like the biggest thing in Africa, so winning a medal was the greatest achievement in my career so far,” confessed the 2013 MVP in the Rwandan league.

The following year (2010), Ngandu was tempted by Falcons BBC to try his luck in the much-hyped Ugandan league.

He calls 2010 a dead year, because he only played for Falcons for half a season, and because of what he described as “poor pay”, he returned  to Rwanda and didn’t play for the rest of the season.

“In 2011, I played again for APR and although we didn’t win the national championship, I played in Fiba-Zone 5 qualifiers in Tanzania where I was voted the best rebounder of the tournament,” the dark-skinned Ngandu said with a smile.

Worst moment

However, for Ngandu and co, things changed from good to bad in 2012 when the APR Club management suddenly announced they were changing their policy to start using only Rwandan player-this move pushed out non-Rwandan players, who ironically made the bulk of the team.

While Bunzangu, who won the award for highest point scorer for the just concluded season, went to Kigali Basketball Club, Ngandu and Kabange headed to APR archrivals Espoir.

For Ngandu, it was the worst moment of his career, he says, the thought his world had ended, and he lost focus for some time. “Because I am a foreigner,

I went back to zero, I lost hope,” he recalls with a mixture of anger and happiness—because, at Espoir he won two back to back national championships.

He noted, “In my first season with Espoir, we won the Zone V tournament (in Kampala) and I was voted the best defender, and I also won two national championships in a row, so I can say that I have been able to overcome and forget the (pain) of being (chased) by APR.”

This year, Ngandu played for the national team at the Fiba Afro-basket Nations Cup in Ivory Coast. He also played the Zone 5 championships in Bujumbura, unfortunately, Espoir failed to defend their title after losing to Burundian side Urunani in the final.

MVP!

“Although my happiest moment is when I was given a bronze at the Afro-basketball club championship (with APR), because I had just achieved the most important medal of my career, but winning the MVP award is something special,” Ngandu says.

Ngandu’s close friend and Espoir team mate, Ghislain Bahati, describes him as a leader or “director” as his peers like to call him because of his defensive organisational skills for the team.

“Our team is like a family, we watch each other’s back, and he (Ngandu) is always at hand to give counsel, especially for the younger players. He likes to remind them all time that, today it’s me, but tomorrow might be any of you, so it makes them to work ever harder,” Bahati explains.

Ngandu’s former coach at APR, Owour says, the powerful Congolese star is the most disciplined player he has ever worked with in Rwanda.

Off the basketball court, Ngandu, one of the most recognised faces on the local basketball scene, is a father of an 8-year-old daughter and owns three internet cafes in Kigali.

The 2013 Rwandan basketball league MVP aims to play for both club (Espoir) and country (Rwanda) for as long as his legs still can and at only 28, only a serious injury can stop him from achieving his dream to play for a professional club in Africa or beyond.

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