The game of basketball has taken Florida State big man Mfiondu Kabengele many places, but he'll never forget his roots.
A native of Burlington, Ontario, Kabengele has drawn inspiration from his hometown team, who were on the cusp of winning their historic title when he talked with NBA.com.
"It's amazing, I talk to my friends all the time and they show me pictures of how crazy it is up and downtown and it's good for the sport."
He continued, providing perspective on just what it meant for the development of basketball in the country: "Canada Basketball has always been on the up and it's been growing, so to see it kind of happen with the Raptors it just inspires other Canadians to get going so it's nice to see."
Fittingly, Kabengele spent the entirety of the workout portion made available to the media alongside Ignas Brazdeikis, another proud Canadian that will be a part of this year's potentially historic draft class for the country.
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When asked about the opportunity to be a part of a momentous draft, Kabengele was quick to attribute credit to those that helped him get here today: "It feels good. I thank my coaches, Canada Basketball, everyone who's kind of supported us and supported me throughout my whole process"
He continued, adding that he wants this benchmark year to be a launching pad rather than a one-off: "to see how all this great talent comes from Canada, I just hope we continue to get better for the next group to come in to be a part of that class and to keep growing it from there."
Kabengele takes his talents to the NBA after an impressive redshirt sophomore season in which the big man led the Seminoles with 13.2 points per game to go along with 5.9 rebounds in a reserve role, efforts that earned him ACC Sixth Man of the Year honours
When he talks about how he can improve for the challenges presented at the next level, the 21-year-old shows an understanding beyond his years, saying that "My main thing is to continue to be in the best shape as possible, I recognize in college there are only 30-something games and in the NBA it's 82 so my job, especially, is to make sure I'm on top of my game physically."
Almost immediately, Kabengele listed a number of other things he felt were necessary to improve upon to become a more complete player: "[being] a better facilitator, my ballhandling skills and just continue to be a part of the offence and grow from there - whatever the coach wants me to do, just accept my role the same way I accepted it at Florida State and grow from there."
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There are cases few and far in between, but it's not often that players that exclusively come off the bench in college are selected in the first round, which is where Kabengele is projected to land in Thursday's draft. His understanding of the demands of the NBA makes total sense given the wide range of advice he has received from former teammates, including:
"'Bake'[Dwayne Bacon] who plays for the Hornets right now, I talk to John [Isaac], who plays for Orlando and Malik Beasley, who plays for the Nuggets…"
And uniquely, the Hall of Famer in his family: "My uncle [Dikembe Mutombo], played in the NBA for 18 years, so I'm always picking his brain, asking him what to expect, especially with these workouts and coaches… his age is a bit different but he understands the game and what to expect, so I always pick his brain consistently."
Naturally, Kabengele has sought defensive tips from his uncle, a four-time Defensive Player of the Year who is second all-time on the NBA's blocks leaderboard, advice that he says worked almost immediately:
"One of the main things that helped me a lot was being a better shot blocker, I remember in the beginning of the ACC, our season, I had maybe like two blocks in 10 games and I asked him 'how'd you get up there?' but he told me 'you've got to make sure as a secondary shot blocker, the driver or the slasher doesn't see you. Show up late so they have to make a quick decision, and I kind of adapted that, I became a much better help-side defender and my blocks kind of went up from there, so that's kind of one of the tips he taught me."
With a 6-foot-10, 250-pound frame (5.1% body fat), and a 7-foot-3 wingspan, Kabengele has the physical tools to immediately make an impact on the defensive end.
As physically as imposing as he is, he was just as easygoing off the court, expressing a genuine eagerness and excitement to improve. With his approach, knowledge and NBA pedigree, it's hard not to see Kabengele finding success at the next level.
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