Why 16-year-old Nkundwa is destined to be the next big thing in local basketball

Rwanda’s basketball talent pool is just overflowing and there is high optimism that in near future, the country would start reaping the fruits if these young talents are well nurtured and helped to realize their full potential.
Youngster Thierry Nkundwa poses for a  photo with head coach Moise Mutokambali after guiding Rwanda to the Zone V U16 title on Monday. 
Geoffrey Asiimwe.
Youngster Thierry Nkundwa poses for a photo with head coach Moise Mutokambali after guiding Rwanda to the Zone V U16 title on Monday. Geoffrey Asiimwe.

Rwanda’s basketball talent pool is just overflowing and there is high optimism that in near future, the country would start reaping the fruits if these young talents are well nurtured and helped to realize their full potential.

Rwanda has a group of young players, who benefited from a fully sponsored scholarship to study and also develop their basketball skills at various colleges in U.S. after demonstrating their potential during the 2016 FIBA-Africa U18 Youth Championships that was staged in Kigali.

 

They include among others; Cadeau De Dieu Furaha, Osborn Shema and Emmanuel Habimana who are at Jacksonville-based Glove Prep Christian Academy.

 

The other two are; Arnaud Nkusi, who is at The Potter’s House Christian Academy, also based in Jacksonville and Chris Paul Ntihinda, who is studying at Convenant Christian Ministries Academy in Georgia.

 

The scholarship programme is courtesy of a partnership between Rwanda Basketball Federation (FERWABA) and Giants of Africa, a non-profit organisation whose programmes are aimed at changing lives of young unprivileged basketball players on the continent.

Having said that however, there is another batch right behind, among them is Thierry Nkundwa.

On Monday, Rwanda U16 boys’ team was crowned champions of this year’s FIBA U16 Africa Zone V Championships that took place in Mombasa, Kenya.

Rwanda will represent Zone V at the forthcoming continental event slated to be hosted in July in Vacoas-Phoenix, Mauritius.

Throughout this five-day tournament, Rwandan boys displayed outstanding performances, comfortably winning all their four games and finished the tournament as the only unbeaten team.

The tournament was an excellent platform for the young talents to showcase their potential in-front of coach Moise Mutokambali, who also doubles as the head coach for the senior national team.

Among those that shone include team captain and center player Elias Ngoga, point guard Landry Iyumva and Nkundwa, who were crucial to Rwanda’s brilliant performance.

However, at the end of the five-day event, Nkundwa was the name one everyone’s lips—despite the organizers not awarding the tournament’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) award for unknown reason, Nkundwa was the majority pick as the tournament’s best player.

The 16-year-old was Rwanda’s best scorer, dropping a combined 83 points in all four games out of the total 334 points that the whole team scored—he also had an average of 6 rebounds per game.

The highly-rated shooting guard is still playing for his secondary school, however there is no doubt that following his performance in Kenya that left his coach Mutokambali stunned, it won’t be long before one of the top local league side come calling for his signature.

Following the end of the regional tournament in Kenya, Saturday Sports’ Geoffrey Asiimwe caught up with the youngster and he cast light on his budding career and his future ambitions.

Profile

Born on February 1, 2001 in Mukarange sector, Kayonza district, Eastern Province to Fidele Nkundwa and Flora Uwababyeyi, Nkundwa comes from a family of 10 children, including seven boys and three girls.

The highly-rated shooting guard, who can also play as a small forward, stands at 1.95m high and weighs 80kgs.

For inspiration, Nkundwa says that on everyday basis, he tries to emulate American professional star LeBron James’ style of play.

“I follow him closely, I always watch his videos and try to learn from him, he’s a complete team player, he does everything, he can defend, he can shoot, he can dribble, he can penetrate and on top of that, he leads the team, which I think every good player should strive to have,” Nkundwa explained.

Nkundwa studied his primary level at Hope Care in Kayonza district and is currently in senior two at Petit Seminaire Baptiste de Butare in Huye district, Southern Province.

He says that, “I respect education and as of now, I give it first priority, the best player is one who is good on the pitch but also academically strong, so I want to advance in school and at least get a degree in Accounting.”

How the journey started

Nkundwa comes from a basketball-loving family. His elder brother Fiston Irutingabo, is a regular player for national league side, IPRC-Kigali, whilst his eldest brother Christian Nigimbere, is an assistant coach at ‘Shooting Touch’ basketball academy in Kayonza.

Nkundwa reveals that he started playing basketball while in primary six under the guidance of his elder brothers. “Because of watching my brothers play every day, I picked interest and that is how I started playing,” he says.

In 2015, Giants of Africa programme was launched in Rwanda and it brought together 50 players from different parts of the country including; Gicumbi, Musanze, Rubavu, Kayonza, Rwamagana and Kigali among others.

Nkundwa was among the players that came from Kayonza district and this gave him a chance to meet the top local coaches including Mutokambali.

“While in training, coach Moise (Mutokambali) told me that I have to work hard, insisting the he would follow me up to see my development, it gave me motivation and belief that one day I could play in the national team,” he recalls.

Nkundwa competed in last year’s Federation of East Africa Secondary Schools Association (FEASSA) Games with Petit Seminaire Baptiste de Butare in Eldoret, Kenya.

In January this year, he was invited by Mutokambali to join the training camp for U16 team that was gearing up for the just concluded FIBA Africa Zone V Championships.

“I worked hard throughout the training camp and played hard in order to make the final list and fortunately, I am here (Mombasa),” he said during the interview.

Rwanda secured the ticket to represent Zone V for the second time in a row after finishing unbeaten in four games.

They defeated Kenya 73-48 with Nkundwa scoring a game high 18 points before making light work of Tanzania 112-27, the next day where the shooting guard, again contributed 18 points.

In the second game against Kenya, and the third in total, Mutokambali’s boys won 77-51 and this time, Nkundwa dropped 23 points, a game high before winding up against Tanzania with another game high 24 points in the 72-33 win.

“This is definitely my best moment of my career that I will always remember, we came here to qualify for Afrobasket and I tried to play as well as I possibly could. My focus is now on doing well in Mauritius and probably to secure a scholarship, I’m going to keep working.”

What his coach says about him

Mutokambali lauded Nkundwa following his performance in Mombasa to a level of tipping him to become one of the best shooting guards in Rwanda, in not so distant future.

“In general, I think this is the best talented group I have ever been with, each player on this team is amazing but for Nkundwa he is a real talent. What he is doing at his age is incredible; he has all the attributes to become the best on his position, in the country,” noted the national team coach.

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