Congolese teen Kuminga awaits his chance at NBA stardom

Thomas URBAIN
AFP

New York (AFP) - He will not finish high school until 2021, but Congolese teen Jonathan Kuminga is already considered by some to be the young player who most interests the NBA.

Kuminga is currently enrolled at The Patrick School in Hillside, New Jersey, 20 miles southwest of New York.

He might be a couple years away from becoming a millionaire, but for now, the 6-foot-8 multiple threat spends most of his time in a modest red brick building, home of The Patrick's gym and classrooms.

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On Christmas eve, coach Chris Chavannes hosted a three-hour practice, with the highly touted prospect sometimes struggling to keep up.

"I think where he came from they didn't have as much talent as we have here and it wasn't as intense", explains Chavannes, "so now you have to learn that grind, the physicality, the demands we put on them, mentally and physically."

"But he's different because he loves basketball. He's a junkie. So the transition for him is not that hard."

That may be one of the few weak spots in Kuminga's profile as a player.

At 17 only, he already weighs over 200 pounds and carries a highly muscular frame.

"Physically he has a body that's college, NBA ready already", states former NBA player Al Harrington, who is one of the few high schoolers to have successfully jumped straight to the pros, back in 1998.

The former St. Patrick player was 220 lbs (and 6'8") when he joined the NBA but thinks Kuminga is "built better than I was". "I think he's more physically gifted than I was at that age."

Born and raised in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kuminga also has the skills to match his "Adonis" frame, as Chavannes puts it.

"Usually you don't see a guy that size being able to handle the ball and post you, the speed and the athleticism, very rarely can you find a full combination, and he has it."

Able to play at least four positions, Kuminga can push the ball up, drive, or wait for the right play within a half court offense, with a reliable outside shot at the ready.

Since arriving in the United States from the Democratic Republic of Congo at age 13, Kuminga has had a chaotic journey, attending four high schools in as many years.

Several members of his family live nearby, but Kuminga has not been reunited with his parents since departing his homeland.

"I am still a kid, so I miss them," said Kuminga, whose older brother, Joel Ntambwe, played US college basketball at Texas Tech University in Lubbock.

The cost of a trip from Africa and visa issues prevent a reunion with his parents or any possibility of joining his homeland's national team in the near future, whose jersey he has never worn even in youth squads.

Because of Kuminga's young age, Congolese federation manager Joe Nkoi Nevertheless doesn't mind the wait, but considers the 2021 AfroBasket tournament as a possible window for a national team debut.

"We are following him closely," Nkoi said. "We give ourselves time."

- Possible top pick -

Since last year, "Jon" has been considered a possible top pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, becoming eligible for the selection process one year after his high school class graduates.

"With his talent he could probably be the number one pick in the NBA", if he could enter straight out of high school said his cousin, Utah Jazz star Emmanuel Mudiay, who is also from DR Congo.

While the NBA has discussed changing the rules to allow direct moves from the high school ranks to the League -- something unseen in 15 years -- any change is unlikely to come in time to prevent Kuminga from having to spend a year in college basketball.

"Because he's so rooted and so grounded that makes it very very easy" for him to stay focused on the ultimate goal, making it to the NBA.

And helping him stay on track, Patrick alumni like Harrington and Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving sometimes drop by workouts and pass along advice.

"For foreigners like us coming from overseas we have a mentality of our goal is set", Mudiay said. "His goal is to get to the NBA."

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