To basketball fanatics in Rwanda and the region, the name Kami Kabange needs no introduction. The Rwanda international has been at the top of the game for ten years.
Along with star guard, Hamza Ruhezamihigo, Kabange is the longest serving player on the national basketball team since his maiden cap in 2009.
Despite having no direct or indirect ties with Rwanda in his ancestry, the national basketball team acquired the services of DR Congo-born Kabange ten years ago as a naturalized player.
After that, as they say, the rest is history.
Known for his powerful, inspiring and mature style of basketball, the 34-year old Kabange has played a pivotal role in helping different clubs win domestic and regional competitions. He is arguably Rwanda’s most renowned player in regional basketball.
Born on July 2, 1984 in Likasi, Lubumbashi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kabange picked interest in basketball at a young age, especially motivated by his elder brother and his twin brother. Nonetheless, he is the only one, who took it to a professional level.
Like most kids on the continent, Kabange grew up aspiring to be a great footballer and tried it out in his childhood. He played soccer on the streets in his home neighbourhood and for his primary school team but football as a career was never meant to be his destiny.
At the age of 13, Kabange stopped football to focus on basketball and four years later, his impressive talent was noticed by Lubumbashi Sport, a topflight league basketball club in his home town where he played for one season.
Described by teammates as a responsible team player, Kabange attracted interests from several league arch-rivals after that season, but he chose Besa Mazembe basketball club, a team he featured for two years before crossing to Rwanda to join APR– in 2007.
Rwanda, home away from home
Kabange moved to Rwanda a little over a decade ago, bought by then local and regional giants APR basketball club during their glory days, under the tutelage of former Kenyan-born trainer, Cliff Owuor, who parted company with the military side last year.
The star centre signed for APR as a foreign player in a foreign country, but little did he know he would find home away from home and settle in the land of a Thousand Hills longer that he anticipated.
He did not only settle down, but, has also established a family in Rwanda. He is a married to Rwandan wife and together they have two children.
2007 – 2011, four memorable seasons at APR
In his debut season, 2007/2008, with the black and white outfit, Kabange helped the club to win the national basketball league, the play-off and the FIBA Africa Zone V Club Championships.
The following year (2009), he led the military side to a successful defence of the regular league and playoffs titles as well as winning the Genocide Memorial Tournament (GMT) to complete a treble of titles that season.
Enjoying his third season, Kabange had already become one of the most celebrated players in the country, leading the foreign players-dominated APR to retain the regular league, the playoffs as well reclaiming the region’s flagship club tournament, Zone V championship –in 2010.
In an eventful 2011 season when the club changed their policy to start using mostly Rwandan players, Kabange only managed to win the play-offs trophy with APR, who lost the league title to now-defunct Kigali Basketball Club.
Later that year, after four years with Owuor’s side, Kabange crossed to APR arch-rivals Espoir in what is still regards as one of the club’s worst transfer blunders.
One year at Espoir, history for the club
After penning a one-year contract at Espoir, Kabange, who stands at 2.03 meters, resumed from where he had left off with APR, leading the Nyamirambo-based club to their first league and playoff titles in the post-1994 era.
He also crucially contributed to their Zone V Championship triumph in 2012, in Kampala, Uganda after demolishing Burundi’s Urunani in the final showpiece. It is the first and only regional title in club’s history that stretches back to 1970s.
Move to Uganda, amazing four years with City Oilers
In early 2013, after playing the FIBA Africa Champions Cup with Espoir in Maputo, Mozambique, Kabange was hijacked by Ugandan giants, City Oilers.
Kabange played four seasons with the Ugandan club, leading them to four consecutive league titles in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 respectively. He also won the FIBA Africa Zone V Championship in 2016, in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
Individual awards with City Oilers
2013 – FUBA MVP and Top Scorer
2013 – USPA Male Basketball Player of the Year
2014 – FUBA Top Scorer
2015 – FUBA MVP and Top Scorer
2015 – USPA Male Basketball Player of the Year
2016 – Member of the team of the tournament in FIBA Zone V Champs
Late 2016, homecoming
After a stellar four-year spell with the two-time reigning Zone V champions, Kabange was approached by then newly-created Rwanda Energy Group (REG) – in December, 2016.
After one and a half seasons at REG, he has already led Cyril Kalima’s team to four trophies, namely; the 2016/2017 league title, the 2017 Genocide Memorial Tournament, the 2018 pre-season tournament as well as the 2018 National Heroes Day tourney.
This year, REG will represent the country in FIBA Africa Zone V Club Championships and Kabange will be aspiring to win the regional tournament for a record fifth time with four different clubs.
National team duties
Since his debut international appearance in 2009, Kabange has never missed a call-up. For the last ten years, he has featured most times for the senior men’s national basketball team than any other player.
Kabange, 34, has helped Rwanda to qualify for finals of the FIBA African Basketball Championship (men’s Afrobasket) on four occasions; in 2009, 2011, 2013 and 2017.
He also played all the four finals. At the 2013 edition, he was the country’s top rebounder and top scorer of the tournament in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, where Rwanda finished tenth.
During his ten years with the national team, Kabange has helped the country to win FIBA Africa Zone 5 Championship two times, in 2011 and 2013 respectively.
No retirement plans
Asked if he is considering retiring from professional basketball anytime soon, Kabange said, “I am not planning to retire soon. As long as I am still able, fit and useful to my club, I am still around for a few more seasons.”
“One thing for sure, when I finally retire from playing, I want to embark on coaching and basketball development career. Possibly REG would be my last club in professional basketball,” noted the soft-spoken centre.
In his basketball playing career, now spanning 17 years, Kabange regards former APR head coach Owuor as the man who had the most effect on his career and singles him out for special appreciation.
Advice to youngsters
The Rwanda international and REG star centre has a word of caution for the youngsters, who want to take up basketball as a career to be “disciplined, hard-working, ambitious and focused” and everything else will come “a lot easier.”