The future seems to be holding precious treasures for the sport of basketball in Rwanda. Rwanda’s ranks number one in Zone V, 13th on the African continent and 64th globally. At the U-18 level, it ranks number 5th only behind Angola, Egypt, Mali and Tunisia on the continent.
However, for some time, the sport was not making good progressive even as Fédération Rwandaise de Basketball Amateur (FERWABA) had been an affiliate member of FIBA Africa since 1977.
To a large extent, this can be attributed to a system that never emphasised on building the sport from the grassroots, and instead largely relied on naturalising foreigners to play for the national team, something that angered many and stifled raw talent in the country.
Nonetheless, about five years FERWABA embarked on a youth development programme aimed at nurturing young local talents, and encouraged local league clubs to give the youngsters a chance.
This programme has since delivered good results, with several youngsters grabbing the opportunity with both hands to the delight of many. One of them is Ali Kubwimana, the 2015-16 season’s Most Valuable Player (MVP); Aristide Mugabe, the MVP for the season before, Bruno Nyamwasa, who was named the most promising player during the 2015/16 season, and Lionel Hakizimana, to mention but a few.
Today, Saturday Sport profiles one of the fast-rising talents in the sport, Bruno Nyamwasa:
The 20-year old diminutive forward scored a total of 269 points last season to help his club Integrated Polytechnic Regional Center (IPRC)-Kigali finish in fourth position in the league.
He finished only behind Olivier Shyaka of Espoir (286 points) on the list of top scorers.
Born in Kiyovu Sector, Nyarugenge District in the City of Kigali on October 2, 1996 to Eugene Gitefano and Odette Muhongayire, Nyamwasa is the third born in the family of four siblings—three boys and one girl.
He attended Kigali International School, Camp Kigali Primary School and EPGL Nyandugu for his primary education, before joining College Christ Roi de Nyanza for his ordinary level secondary education.
He later went to Groupe Scolaire St Joseph Kabgayi for his Advanced Level for two years, pursuing Mathematics, Economics and Geography; and then joined Lycee de Kigali where he completed Advanced Level in 2014.
In 2015 he joined IPRC-Kigali in the faculty of Mining.
The soft-spoken basketballer, who is single, says he is a great fan of NBA’s Golden State Warriors and looks up to ex-LA Lakers’ star Kobe Bryant (retired) for inspiration.
And, despite basketball being his first sport, he supports English Premier League giants Manchester United.
Basketball talent and football fan
Nyamwasa is not the only one in his family to play basketball. His father Gitefano played the game in his youth although not at the level his son has reached. Nyamwas’s elder brother Brave Rutsindintwarane is a former United Generation Basketball (UGB) and APR player.
Describing his childhood, Nyamwasa is no different to many basketball players in the country — he discovered his talent in his early teens having spent his early years playing football, as it is the most accessible sport in Rwanda.
“I started playing basketball when I joined secondary, during my childhood and the whole of primary school I used to play football. I loved football and never thought I would end up in playing basketball. To this day, I am still an ardent football fan,” he says.
When he joined College Christ Roi de Nyanza in 2009, his passion for the Beautiful Game was dealt a big blow because the school concentrated on volleyball and basketball so much they didn’t even have a football pitch, let alone a team.
He recalls, “At Christ Roi, there was no football, not even a football pitch, so whenever I felt like playing soccer, I would kick about mini basketballs with schoolmates on classroom blocks veranda because we had no other option.”
Nyamwasa’s inspiration to learn basketball was grew in 2010, thanks in a large part to Espoir Basketball Club and Rwanda shooting guard Lionel Hakizimana, who was by then in senior six at same school.
“Basketball and volleyball were the two most popular sports disciplines at Christ Roi but I picked interest in basketball because seeing how Lionnel (Hakizimana) made the game look enjoyable from his skills and how famous he was at school.”
He added that, “That’s how I began to learn how to play basketball, I was in Senior Two at the time, and it was particularly during the third term holidays that my journey to where I am today started.”
One day, while playing with his friends in their neighborhood in Kanombe, a Kigali suburb, a one Kaume spotted Nyamwasa and saw some potential in him. He later took him to Cercle Sportif de Kigali in Rugunga where a basketball training camp organised to help detect young talents was being held.
“I trained at Cercle with other kids for a month and that period opened the doors for me and from that point I realised that basketball was the sport for me, it was my first time to meet and work with a coach and when I returned to school, basketball became my favourite pastime,” he recalls.
Thank to his quick learning and spectacular skills, Nyamwasa was later named the captain of his school’s Ordinary Level team in 2011.
However, soon after a dispute arose among school officials over which sport Nyamwasa was best at or most suited for (between basketball and volleyball).
While he wanted to play basketball, the school basketball and volleyball coach Jean Paul Mana insisted he could do better in volleyball.
As a result, Nyamwasa was sent to a volleyball training camp that was organised by Fédération Rwandaise du Sport Scolaire (FRSS) in Byimana School of Sciences in Ruhango District.
“I went there unwillingly but when I arrived, I, without the knowledge of our school officials, diverted and joined the basketball camp,” he recalls.
The youngster added: “In the basketball camp I outshone all the other boys and one of our trainers was impressed and alerted coach John Bahufite (formerly of Espoir), who was at the time the coach of Groupe Scolaire Saint Joseph Kabgayi. In 2012, John offered me a scholarship at his school, basically he signed me from Christ Roi for Groupe Scolaire Saint Joseph Kabgayi.
Under the guidance of Bahufite, Nyamwasa was allowed to concentrate on basketball, and thrived in junior teams in 2012 and 2013 when he became a regular in his school’s team. Later, Bahufite left Saint Joseph and joined Espoir as coach. Around the same time, in 2014, Nyamwasa also joined Lycee de Kigali and was subsequently spotted and ‘recruited’ by the current national team head coach Moise Mutokambali.
In that same year, Nyamwasa was handed his maiden call-up to the national team that competed at the 2014 FIBA Africa Zone V U-18 Championships that took place in Uganda.
Upon returning from Uganda, Nyamwasa was recruited by Espoir on a two-year contract and helped the Nyamirambo-based outfit to win the 2013/14 and 2014/15 regular season league and playoffs titles as well as two Gisembe memorial tournament trophies.
Best and worst moments
“My best moment was the time I joined Saint Joseph because they had a strong team with top players and I learnt a lot from them. My worst moment again came at Saint Joseph in 2013 when we lost the interschool title to Lycee de Kigali by a margin of two points; 58-60.”
“First of all I never imagined I would reach this far as a basketball player, so to be where I am is statement enough to prove that I can actually go even further in my career. I need to continue working hard and seek to get better, one day I may get a chance to play at the international level as a professional.”
“My appreciation goes to Kaume for noticing the potential in me and holding my hand and taking me to Cercle Sports for a training camp, which I can say sort of kick-started my career; the other person I so grateful to is coach John (Bahufite), he taught me the technicalities of the sport; and, finally, my mum, who has been there for me all my life.”