Guibert Nijimbere: The rise of a basketball star

Guibert Nijimbere (R) is seen here dribbling past Wilson Nshobozwabyosenumukiza during the Genocide Memorial Tournament’s final at Amahoro Stadium last month. Sam Ngendahimana.

GUIBERT Nijimbere first stepped on Rwandan soil in September 2017, in pursuit for a civil engineering degree at IPRC-Kigali.

Little did he know he would also land a sports scholarship to feature for the learning institution’s team in the Bank of Kigali National Basketball League. 

Back in his homeland, Burundi, Nijimbere is one of the best point-guards, and IPRC-Kigali coach Albert Buhake had met him a few months earlier in Kampala, Uganda, during the 2017 FIBA Africa Zone V Nations Championship.

Guibert Nijimbere has spoken highly of his coach Albert Buhake who was behind his 2017 transfer from Burundian outfit New Stars to IPRC-Kigali. Courtesy.

Last month; while he featured for Patriots as a support recruitment for the tournament, Nijimbere was named the Most Valuable Player (MVP) of the 2019 Genocide Memorial Tournament.

The IPRC-Kigali star had a one-on-one with Saturday Sport’s Edwin Ashimwe about his rise to stardom and the evolution of his talent over the last two years in Rwanda.

Early days

Born on December 26, 1996, in Mutanga Nord, a suburb south-east of the capital, Bujumbura, Nijimbere comes from a family of nine; six sisters and three brothers – with all the boys being basketball luminaries.

Nijimbere (R) was voted the Most Valuable Player (MVP) of this year’s Genocide Memorial Basketball Tournament last month. Sam Ngendahimana.

Ephreim Nijimbere, their father, Nijimbere Jnr. says he was the biggest motivation for his sons to love the game.

“Our dad had a Sunday team and we went to watch him every time he played. Sometime we would get a little playing time with the team, or entertain ourselves with the ball on the sidelines.

That is how we ended up in basketball.”

However, Nijimbere admits that he did not see playing competitive basketball coming. He just wanted to play for fun, and in the process represented his secondary school teams, and the next thing he saw was an array of top youth teams in Burundi running after him.

At the age of 16, in 2013, he joined New Stars youth team in Burundi’s second tier before being promoted to the first team the following season, making him the youngest player that has ever featured in the country’s top tier championship. He represented the club in various competitions for four seasons before relocating to Rwanda for university studies.

Nijimbere says he draws inspiration from Golden State Warriors guard Steph Curry.

“Steph (Curry) is not just, probably, the best shooting guard in history. He is also a great team player, with unique vision and leadership ability. I hope I meet him one day and tell him how he inspires me.”

Rapid rise to stardom

Nijimbere, he says, he never tried any other sport – not even football – prior to committing himself to basketball, and that allowed him to focus and grow his talent at a young age.

After five years with the Burundian giants, New Stars, Nijimbere was not only the club’s most influential player, but was also soon becoming the face of the Burundian league.

Thanks to his rapid rise to the top of the game in Burundi, he earned his debut call-up in the national team and was part of the team that played the 2017 regional Zone V tournament in Uganda, which he believes was a stepping stone to his relatively still young basketball career.

“We may not have achieved highly as a team in the tournament, but individually I learnt a lot. I came out of the competition a completely different player. I was now more confident and ready to take my game to a new level.”

Today, Nijimbere is IPRC-Kigali’s biggest asset and many teams have tried to lure him from Buhake’s side, but he insists that he is happy at the club and intends to see his current contract through to the end, and, possibly, extend it.

During his first (2017/2018) season with IPRC-Kigali, he was fourth on the league’s leading scorers list, with 134 points, and provided more assists (58) than any other player.

Message to youngsters

The 1.86m tall guard urges every young person, particularly aspiring basketball players, to believe in their dreams and be aggressive, with discipline, in pursuing them.

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