Rwanda has over the last five years seen emergence of more young basketball talents than it had produced in previous decades.
The country has not only consistently won the FIBA Africa Zone V Under-16 and U-18 championships, both in boys’ and girls’ categories, but it also has constantly featured in Youth and Junior African Basketball Championships.
Last year, the women’s U18 national team finished fourth at the African Championship in Maputo, Mozambique, after stunning some of the continent’s giants; such as Egypt.
And, as a result, a good number of Rwandan youngsters have been landing scholarships to play for different colleges and universities in the United States.
Some of the young players pushing their game to professional level in the U.S. include Arnaud Nkusi, Bella Murekatete, Cadeau Shema, Emmanuel Habimana, Chris Paul Ntihinda and Osborn Shema.
However, there is a new kid on the block, and is largely seen as the new face of youth basketball of the country. His name is Dick Sano Rutatika.
Rutatika is captain of the Under-16 national basketball team. Here, he is receiving an award from Guy Rurangayire, of the Ministry of Sports and Culture. / Courtesy
Rutatika does not attend or play for college in the States, and neither is college basketball his dream. He insists his dream is to be the first Rwandan to play in the National Basketball Association (NBA), the world’s biggest – and, by far, the most followed – basketball league.
The 15-year-old, who was named the Most Valuable Player (MVP) of this year’s Zone V Under-16 Championship in Kigali last month, currently attends the NBA Academy Africa in Dakar, Senegal. He is the sole Rwandan on the 19-member 2018 cohort.
The 2m tall power forward, who can also play as a center, earned his scholarship to the highly rated academy after he was voted MVP of the inaugural NBA Junior League Rwanda last year.
Born and raised in Kigali, Rutatika is the first born from a family of three; two boys and one girl.
Speaking to Saturday Sport in a recent interview, Ratatika revealed that it was because of his father, Emile Rutatika, that he loved and started playing basketball at a young age.
“My father used to buy me basket-balls, they are the toys I played with,” he said. “When I started to grow up, I started to go train at Club Rafiki, in Nyamirambo, and then at Cercle Sport in Kiyovu.
“Basketball has always been part of my life.”
NBA legend Dwyane Wade visited Rutatika (behind him on the left) and his NBA Academy Africa teammates in Dakar, Senegal. / Net
At 15, Rutatika is one of the youngest members of the 2018 NBA Academy Africa cohort. Only Cameroun’s Marouf Moumine, 14, is younger.
“I want to keep training hard, and learning from the best – on and off the court. I am happy to be at the NBA Academy, and I have improved my talent a lot from the programme, but my dream is far from reached: I want to play in the NBA.”
“Becoming the first Rwandan in the (NBA) league won’t come easily but I believe in hard work. Because no one has done it before doesn’t mean it is impossible.”
At the moment, Rutatika is captaining the national U16 team at the ongoing FIBA Africa Men’s U16 Championship in Cape Verde.
By press time Friday, Rwanda’s quarter-final game against Egypt was yet to get underway.