So many young players never manage to reach their full potential but you can usually tell the next great talent when they are taking their baby steps early on.
There is little that stirs as much emotion to a basketball fan like seeing a youngster emerge from nowhere to become their team’s pillar almost instantly.
Having said that, Rwanda has really produced a number of young basketball talents many of whom Saturday Sport has since profiled.
In this issue, GEOFFREY ASIIMWE gives us a peek into the life of yet another kid on the block, bursting with extraordinary skill. He’s Integrated Polytechnic Regional Centre-Kigali (IPRC-Kigali)’s forward Steven Hagumintwari.
The 23-year-old already seems quite the complete player. Already averaging the most points per game this season, Hagumintwari finished last year’s season as the fourth top scorer with 271 points.
The youngster helped Albert Buhake’s IPRC-Kigali to this year’s Heroes’ Day tournament title, the first competitive trophy for the Kicukiro-based side since its establishment in 2013.
Hagumintwari scored a team-high 15 points as IPRC-Kigali stun title favourites Espoir 76-65 in the title game.
And, with the 2016/17 season second round getting underway this weekend, IPRC-Kigali are fifth in the league with 15 points, two behind joint table leaders Patriots and Rwanda Energy Group (REG).
Born on October, 4 1993 in Nyakabanda Sector of Nyarugenge District, City of Kigali, to Emmanuel Ndayisaba (RIP) and Victoire Kayitesi, Hagumitwari is the only boy and the first born in the family of five.
He attended La Colombiere School in the City of Kigali up to primary four before moving to Ecole Primaire Saint Joseph Kicukiro from where he completed his primary education.
He later joined Petit Seminaire “Virgo Fidelis” de Karubanda in Huye district where he studied all the six years of his secondary education pursing Physics, Chemistry and Biology (PCB) in Advanced Level completing in 2012.
In 2013, he joined IPRC-Kigali pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Mining Engineering, which he completed last year before graduating early this month. He is currently working at the same institution as an instructor in the workshop and laboratory centre.
The youngster says he is a great fan of LeBron James, an American professional basketball player of the Cleveland Cavaliers, the reigning NBA champions.
“I picked interest in basketball because of LeBron, I used to watch his videos and I fell in love with his style of play and skills,” Hagumitwari disclosed in this interview with Saturday Sport.
Hagumintwari, who stands at 1.97m and weighs 92 kilogrammes, can also play as a shooting guard. Apart from his love for basketball, he is a fan of English Premier League side Liverpool FC.
Like many people, Hagumintwari never discovered his talent in his early childhood. He says he grew up playing football like many other kids, but had a liking for volleyball, which he eventually played when he joined high school.
“I never tried basketball in my childhood, I just played football like any other kid but when I joined Petit Seminaire “Virgo Fidelis” de Karubanda, it was like a must to play volleyball and I took the same direction,” he recounts.
In late 2008 before joining senior three, Hagumintwari, who says most of his close friends were actually basketball players, influenced him to learn basketball on the grounds that he had stature that would make it easy for him to integrate.
He says: “I was convinced by my friends who kept encouraging me to try out basketball and, during our third term holidays, our school organised a basketball training camp and I was allowed to attend.”
The highly-rated youngster says it was during this camp that he discovered his talent and the following year, he was selected to be part of the school team.
He continued playing regularly for his school and in 2012, while in senior six, he earned his first national team call-up for the FIBA Africa Under-18 Championships that took place in Maputo, Mozambique.
“Unfortunately, I did not travel with the team then because the tournament was scheduled at the time when we were going to sit for national exams,” he recalls.
While at Seminaire “Virgo Fidelis” de Karubanda, Hagumitwari once played against Saint Joseph Kabgayi, then coached by Jean Bahufite (current head coach of REG), who was impressed by what he saw in the youngster.
Upon completing his senior six, which coincided with Bahufite being appointed Espoir head coach, Bahufite immediately asked him to join his new league side to which he agreed without any hesitation.
“It was like a dream when I was approached by Espoir because they had the best players in my position like Lionel Hakizimana (now with Patriots), Pascal Karekezi (now with APR), among others, but I agreed to join them and use the opportunity as a learning experience.”
Towards the end of 2013, IPRC-Kigali was formed and they came calling with a full scholarship on the table.
He says: “I didn’t hesitate because it had two opportunities for me, one was studying and another was more game time, which I didn’t have at Espoir.”
In their debut season 2013/14, IPRC-Kigali finished in the sixth place in the national league before improving by one place in 2014/15, while in 2015/16, they finished fourth in regular season league, hence participating in the playoffs, consequently finishing third.
In February, IPRC-Kigali dethroned Patriots as the Heroes’ Day Tournament champions.
On senior national team duty, Hagumintwari made his debut during the 2014 FIBA-Africa Zone V Championships that were staged in Kampala, Uganda where the Rwandan team finished third.
He also represented his country at this year’s just-concluded Zone V Championships edition held in Egypt, where Rwanda also won bronze.
Best, worst moments
“My best moment was winning the Heroes’ Day tourney, it was memorable because it was our first silverware, and the worst moment was during the 2015 FIBA Zone V Club Championships with Espoir when I sustained a knee injury which took nine months to heal, I feared my career was over.”
Future plans and ambitions
“My objective is to work as hard as possible and become a professional basketballer, I want to play at the very top of the game.”
“A lot of people have helped me in different ways that I cannot mention everyone but, first and foremost, I must thank God that I am able to play now after struggling with serious injuries; I also want to thank my mum for she always encourages me in whatever I do; my friends who have supported and stood with me every step of the way; and last but not least, my coach (Moïse) Mutokambali.”