June 24, 2011
The second round of Thursday night's NBA draft was full of obscure players from foreign leagues, but no one selected has as unknown a profile as Tanguy Ngombo(notes). A 6-6 forward from the Qatar League, Ngombo was virtually unknown by even the most committed draftniks until Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress.com tweeted about his potential selection by the Minnesota Timberwolves in the second round.
Sure enough, Givony was right -- Minnesota took Ngombo on Thursday night with the 58th overall pick. ESPN appeared to have ripped his highlight video straight from YouTube and his profile photo from Google Images, while analyst Fran Fraschilla compared him to Sidd Finch, a baseball phenom George Plimpton made up for a now-notorious April Fool's Day hoax in a 1985 issue of Sports Illustrated.
It turns out that Fraschilla was at least partially right: Ngombo exists, but his story doesn't check out. When the Wolves selected him Thursday night, they thought they were getting a 21-year-old golden nugget hidden from all other times. Instead, they found pyrite, because Ngombo is really 26 years old. Givony tweeted the truth on Friday afternoon:
Here is a direct link to the FIBA website archive with Tanguy Ngombo 's profile and date of birth: http://bit.ly/lxStcJ
It looks like even Qatar is lising Tanguy Ngombo as being born in 1984: http://bit.ly/m5NXPI - I don't think there's any way around this now
NBA rules dictate that European players become automatically eligible for the league at 22 years old, at which point they become free agents unless a team already holds their rights through the draft. Since Ngombo had never been selected and his real age of 26 appears to have been a matter of public record, the selection should have never been allowed to happen and may be voided after the fact.
If the Wolves have a case to keep Ngombo's rights, it's that his NBA.com draft profile lists his year of birth as 1989. (The profile also gets his name wrong, but, in fairness, "Targuy" has been a common spelling since he entered the draftosphere on Monday.) The FIBA and Qatar links above look to be more official listings, so it looks as if the Wolves (and the NBA, to be sure) appear not to have done their due diligence. If they want Ngombo, they may have to sign him to a contract. Of course, it's also not entirely clear why any franchise would want a 26-year-old forward who plays in a low-level league in the Middle East. The only reason Minnesota should want to hold on to the pick is to avoid embarrassment. There's no reason that general manager David Kahn couldn't have done a rudimentary web search about Ngombo, and he deserves mockery for failing to carry out some basic research.
It's unclear if a case like this one has ever occurred in the NBA, but there is something of a precedent in the WNBA, as Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus told me on Friday afternoon. In 2007, the Sacramento Monarchs took Charel Allen with the 36th pick even though she was set to return to Notre Dame for a fifth year and had not declared for the draft. Under league rules, she was declared ineligible, although the Monarchs did make her the Miss Irrelevant in 2008 when they chose her with the 43rd and final pick of the draft.
If that example serves as precedent, then the Wolves probably aren't going to end up with Ngombo. Given his advanced age and lack of reputation, they may be just fine with that. However, this mess will remain as a black mark on the resume of Kahn. Up until now, his most ridiculous accomplishment as an NBA GM was taking two point guards with back-to-back lottery picks in 2008. Failing to look into the full history of Tanguy Ngombo may be impossible to top.