KAMPALA (FIBA Africa Champions Cup 2016/FIBA AfroBasket 2017) - Born in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s mining capital of Lubumbashi in the Katanga Province, Kami Kabangu has established himself as one of the most decorated centers in East African basketball in the last decade.
The 32-year-old is the epitome of efficiency and all-around skill in the paint as proved statistically in every national league, regional and continental tournament he has graced. His talent is undisputed by anyone that has knowledge of the hoops game.
Back in 2007, Kenyan tactician Cliff Owuor spotted the tall and energetic young man playing for TP Mazembe at the annual Coupe du Congo and convinced him to join Rwandan giants APR.
"I wanted an adventure and going to Rwanda presented the opportunity to do so," the soft-spoken Kabangu said in an exclusive interview with FIBA.com.
His presence in the military side gave them an edge over many a team at the annual FIBA Zone 5 Club Championships. After guiding them to the title, Kabangu was ready to make his debut at the FIBA Africa Champions Cup in Luanda, Angola.
APR returned to the continental tournament the following year and the Rwanda Basketball Federation (FERWABA) went through the process of giving Kabangu the Rwandan nationality for their appearance at FIBA AfroBasket 2009.
"It was a decision I made because of the target I set earlier in my career and to be able to compete with the elite in basketball," Kabangu said of the decision to change nationality from being a Congolese to becoming a Rwandan.
"DR Congo has so much talent around the world. I do not regret adopting Rwandan citizenship. If anything, I am contented with what God has given me through my career."
Kabangu is among a host of Congolese players that have changed nationality including NBA star Serge Ibaka [Republic of Congo] who adopted Spanish nationality and featured at the London 2012 Olympics to help them to win silver.
With Rwandan nationality, the 2.03m centre has appeared at Africa’s flagship competition three times including his debut in 2009 in Libya before playing at the 2011 edition in Madagascar and 2013 in Cote d’Ivoire.
In Abidjan, Kabangu played the most minutes of any player in the tournament - 191 in five games - and was the third best rebounder with 49 behind leader Assem Marei of Egypt and Ike Diogu of Nigeria who had 81 and 72 respectively.
"One thing I have learnt from playing at international tournaments is that basketball is the same everywhere but the only difference is the commitment," he explained.
As Kabangu prepares to compete at the FIBA Africa Champions Cup 2016 with Ugandan outfit City Oilers, he said: "Besides talent, passion and desire, we need to work really hard and spend time on the floor training and perfecting our skills and seeking to learn."
Since moving to Uganda in 2013 after winning Zone 5 with Espoir of Rwanda the year before, Kabangu guided the City Oilers to their first national league title in their debut year in the top-flight competition.
He has since guided City Oilers to three straight national league titles before helping them finish third and second in 2014 and 2015 in that order at Zone 5 before winning the regional title in 2016 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
However, this did not come without challenges. Kabangu - who grew up in a Francophone setting, speaking French, Swahili and Lingala in Lubumbashi and mostly French in Rwanda - had to adjust and learn English in Uganda.
"I had to learn how to speak English from friends and teammates and this was made easier when my wife and children joined me in Kampala. We tried to adjust to Ugandan culture while also maintaining ours and not forgetting where we came from," he said.
Kabangu’s wife Aisha Kamana and two children Tona Salha, 14, and Bryan Mwilambwe, 5, live with him in Kampala and have since embraced the robust life in the Ugandan capital.
"I do miss home a lot but it means everything to have my wife and children with me in Kampala because my motivation depends on them. I get my strength, focus, and motivation from them."
"My wife always cooks for me Congolese food and of course we listen to a lot of Congolese music, rumba from Congo."
Kabangu has won the Zone 5 Most Valuable Player award two times in 2013 and 2015 and has been the league top scorer for 2013, 2014 and 2015. He has also been voted by the Uganda Sports Press Association as the best male basketball player of the year on two occasions.
His decorated career in Uganda has earned him massive respect from the fraternity around the region and he is still yearning for more.
- 14 Kami Kabangu (RWA) - Tunisia v Rwanda, Day 6 of the 2013 FIBA Africa Championship in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, 25 August, Preliminary Round