VIDEO: From APR player to head coach: The rise and rise of Karim Nkusi

If you are looking around for a legend for the APR basketball club, Aime Karim Nkusi’s name is way up on the list. 

The famous shooting guard featured for the local outfit for a whopping 10 years, before he went out of Rwanda for new pastures; and later returned and took over the coaching reins at his boyhood club.

 

Nkusi, 36, a celebrated basketball player of his era, is one of those few sports personalities in Rwanda that have the opportunity to serve a club for a long time as player and later on as coach.

 

He also had a big presence in the national basketball team, in addition to enjoying a lengthy career at APR from 1999 to 2010. Nkusi had short stints in Uganda and with local club Cercle Sportif de Kigali (CSK), before he could later in 2017 take over as APR head coach.

 

In this issue, Weekend Sport profiles the man who has worn a number of caps at the APR franchise, having served as a player, assistant coach, and now the head coach.

Nkusi (R) played for Ugandan side Falcons for seven months in 2010. Courtesy photo.

Born and raised in Nyarugenge, one of the three districts that make the City of Kigali, Nkusi is the only boy from a family of five. He is the third child to Silver Ntambiye and Rosalie Ntukamazina.

Choosing basketball

Just like many children in the Rwandan setting, football was the dream sport for Nkusi and played it with passion at early age before representing his school GS Camp Kigali in youth competitions before trying out volleyball when he joined secondary school at ES and ADEB Gikondo.

He played as a right-attacker at Nyamirambo-based Rafiki and at some point considered a career in volleyball. But, it did not materialise – thanks to an early opportunity that basketball presented. 

“I remember in 1999 I was playing volleyball at Rafiki and was trying to make a step forward into the Kigali Volleyball club. But APR basketball coach Innocent Karambizi approached me and told me he wanted to me to join his team,” he said.

Nkusi joined APR aged 16, and, as they say, the rest is history.

Nkusi at The New Times’ head offices in Kigali after our interview this week. Sam Ngendahimana

“It was a dream come true playing for a big team like APR and I knew I had to work hard to earn my place at the club. It was not going to be handed to me.” 

Three years later, his effort was rewarded as he made his league debut in 2002, at the age of 19. 

Playing career 

Joining APR, he was only a youngster starting out. He usually played without a salary to speak of but the team would cater for his school fees – which was exciting for him,

“It was so amazing that I could play a game I love and earn something from it,” he recalls.

Soon after his 2002 league debut, Nkusi was one of the most brilliant youngsters in the championship, and never stopped impressing.

In 2004, he played his first competition outside the country – a regional tournament that was organized in Uganda. APR won the trophy after beating Uganda’s Falcons on the final.

At the 2007 Zone V Club Championships, Nkusi helped APR to a sixth position out of 12 teams from Angola, DR Congo, Rwanda and Congo-Brazzaville. Two years later, he was a key player of the APR squad that finished third at the 2009 Fiba Africa Club Championships after losing to Petro Atletico from Angola.

After nearly 11 years at APR and four league titles (2005, 2006, 2008 and 2009) with the club, Nkusi signed for then Ugandan giants Falcons in 2010. 

However, seven months later, Falcons were hit with financial constraints that forced the club to release most of their key players, including Nkusi who resorted to returning to Rwanda.

Upon his return, he was signed by Cercle Sportif de Kigali (CSK) on a one-year deal before calling time on his playing career in 2011.

Aime Karim Nkusi (L) is APR basketball club’s head coach since 2017. File.

From 2006 up until his retirement, Nkusi played for the national team and represented the country in various regional and continental tournaments.

His last competition was the 2011 All-Africa Games in Maputo, Mozambique. 

Coaching career

The former Rwanda international never wasted time after retiring from competitive basketball. He started acquiring knowledge and experience in coaching, doing a lot of beginner courses and training youth teams.

In 2013, Nkusi was hired as the assistant coach of the APR women’s basketball team under head coach Charles Mbazumutima. The latter remains the team’s manager to date. 

Three years after his first coaching job, he joined the APR men’s team, also as assistant coach, for the 2016/17 season. A year later, he was appointed as the head coach following the sacking of Kenyan tactician Cliff Owuor. 

Nkusi is also part of the national team’s technical bench, as the second assistant coach, since 2018. Courtesy.

His three-year contract at the military side ends with the 2019/20 campaign, but he is optimistic about extension. Before the league was suspended in March due to the Covid-19 pandemic, APR were third on the 13-team table with 15 points, having won seven games and lost once this term.

While the Rwanda Basketball Federation (Ferwaba) awaits an all-clear from the Ministry of Sports, it is expected that the championship will resume next month.

Since 2018, Nkusi is the second assistant coach of the men’s senior national team.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

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