It's no secret that I like Myck Kabongo, the point guard for the Texas Longhorns. Actually I think it would be unfair to say that I like him. I admire him, and wish him all the success in the world. This is going to be a hard post to write, and I've tried to write it since meeting him at the Chicago Pre-Draft Combine last month. And I've scrapped so much of it. I've done months of research on this player, and I've been following his career since he was a Canadian basketball player in high school. Now he's on the precipice of being drafted to play in the NBA. It's been a long journey for him, and if you ask him he would say that the journey is just beginning.
Still, he's the forgotten man in this draft due to overwhelming recency bias. Out of sight / out of mind makes fools of us all. Many people don't know why I'm so enamored with this young man. Simply put, he has the talent to play in the NBA. But he appears to have the positive energy to change lives. So, in a way, I like Kabongo as a basketball player. But I see in him the potential to elevate the lives of others through the medium of being a basketball player. If you spend three minutes talking with him in person you would feel the same way.
So what is Myck Kabongo?
Myck Kabongo is a young man with a world of life experiences.
I'm an immigrant, but I came from Canada to the USA. It's not the biggest leap in the world, though I'm arguably in a more politically unstable country now with more sectarian strife and health care gaps. I've lived all over the world though, and I've seen things which have broadened my understand of what reality is, and better grounded myself and self worth accordingly. I'm just a dude. I know that I'm just a dude. And while I have seen the best of the world and the worst of the world I've never had to deal with stuff that Kabongo had to deal with.
Myck was born in Lubumbashi in 1992. Lubumbashi is one of the largest cities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and a major primary resource center in Africa. You can find precious things if you work hard enough in Lubumbashi. Back then the nation was called Zaire. (That's where Dikembe Mutombo was from, and the nation split into two -- Serge Ibaka comes from the other half) And the reason why Myck did not grow up there is because there's this thing called Genocidal Civil War. It pains me to read about the things that happen in Africa because I have a very strong link there as that is where my father and his family grew up. I speak Swahili, damn it -- which is a Bantu language. We still have property and businesses there. And while the stuff I have seen could be classified as upsetting, it's nothing like the world Myck grew up in.
Some of the guys in Kabongo's draft class came up with the idea of always making the NBA, being a star, being rich. A few others came from middle class backgrounds (Cody Zeller). Some came from better -- they were the sons of professional athletes (Shane Larkin, Ray McCallum). Myck lived for part of his life in a refugee camp during genocidal civil war. I cannot get over that, it's a super heavy thing to deal with during formative years. I can't imagine what his frame of reference for what "normal" was back then.
His family moved to safety to Capetown, South Africa when he was three. Then moved to Toronto, Canada when he was six. Think of your life growing up from birth to the end of kindergarten. Think of what was normal for you. Try to imagine what was normal for Kabongo.
Myck Kabongo is mature.
The essential question of psychology is why do we do the things we do. Depending on which field of psychology you lean towards the question sometimes deviates between why do we believe what we do, and why do we react the way we do? I am a strong believer in first hand experience being a large part of learning. What you see and hear and learn are what you know, and what you know is what you judge all other experiences against. Sometimes people have a lot of early life experiences which color their future life and how they see life in general. I grew up in a big family as kid who could grow up carefree. Myck is the second youngest of a large family as well (four older siblings, one younger), and while Adler suggests to us a little about birth order -- life experience plays a huge part of who you become as well.
And you can tell that when you talk with Myck Kabongo. He's a very young man who takes care of his body and is 21 years old, but he is very mature. I think part of that is based upon life experience. He knows who he is in this world, and he knows that while basketball is something he is very good at, it's not like he's protecting children from joining the infantry of some warlord. He's refreshingly grounded. I think that helps him to understand and better plan where he wants to go in the world. He has a frame of reference, and he understands where he is. And those are two things you need if you are going to be honest with yourself and your abilities and learn to get better.
Myck Kabongo is a leader.
You can lead in many different ways. We like to believe that a guy like John Stockton was quiet all the time, but he was always talking on the court to his team, and helping them, directing time. Talking in time outs. Sure, he didn't flex like Karl Malone -- but he communicated way more than we like to remember. John did let his game do the talking -- to his opponents. But he let his mouth and brain to a lot of talking too during stoppages of plays and during crunch time.
I think Myck Kabongo is a leader, he's a strong communicator. During the NBA Draft Combine during defensive drills for JUST the point guards he was the only guy on the court talking to his team, setting them up, and directing. So when only floor leaders were on the court, he was the only one that looked and sounded like a floor leader. He does this on offense too -- but I'm not worried about his ability to lead an offense. (And it's not like Texas had one last year, so the offensive data we have from last year are almost meaningless) Our problem in Utah is defense. Kabongo is the intelligent head of a snake, a defensive boa constrictor, that has the talent and capability (anchored by Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter) to smother other teams to death.
The other PGs deferred to him in a way on defense, and he orchestrated a great defensive sequence where it ended it by moving quickly enough and TAKING a charge. He didn't draw a charge, or flop. He moved his team mates around so that the offensive player could ONLY go to a place that Myck would beat him to. And a place where Myck said "the only way you are going to beat me is by breaking the rules to do so." And dude took the charge, and not only did scouts and team execs take notice -- but some of the guys running the drills at the combine could do nothing but clap and congratulate him.
This is leading with your presence and performance on the court. But he also leads by being active in communicating and relaying information to his crew. We need that, especially our younger guys. Gordon Hayward doesn't talk. Alec Burks seems to play a game where he's trying to say the fewest words possible in a lifetime. Derrick Favors is the strong silent type. And Enes Kanter has a gag order.
It's the communication thing which is a key for Kabongo. If you talk with him he looks in your eyes, he processes information, he even offers up assistance. When I was looking for a word he was listening intently enough to think of the word that was on the tip of my tongue. I think it's his communication skill that would make him excel in any job environment or job interview. Particularly if you want someone to be a "let's go!" type of leader.
Myck Kabongo has a spark.
I don't know how to explain this, and everyone I've talked to about it seems to agree (from beat writers to NBA royalty), but Kabongo has this spark about him. There's something electrochemical about him. He makes you better, and makes you happier when he's around. He's confident, he is engaging, he makes you feel like you are the star -- when you are the one interviewing him. And it's not an act either, he's that way all the time. He does it when he's helping a teammate make a funny YouTube video, and he does it during a stoppage of play on the court when he goes out of his way to fist pound a ball boy for doing a good job. He flat out told me that he wants to make peoples' days.
And he does. When I talked with Holly MacK about it I said it's this tangible MagicJohnson-like ability. Johnson was a star and had the skills, but worked his butt off on offense to get guys like Kurt Rambis a two handed dunk, and then high five Rambis like it was all him. He has this spark and it's a force multiplier when you combine it with his communication and leadership skills. And it's really something you either have or you don't have. It's like height, it's a product of life experience and luck. You can't make yourself taller. You can't make yourself into the guy in the locker room that everyone wants to work harder for. You have it or you don't.
Out of all the point guards I got to interact with (e.g. more than just one interview with), Kabongo scored the highest on this. Does that mean he's the only guy out there that does this? No. But like that study about players who are the best teammates by how much chatter they have and how many times they make physical contact with their team -- the behavior may be strange, but the results speak for themselves. (Steve Nash was ranked #1 when that study came out a few seasons ago, Nash is a bigwig in the Canadian basketball program and one of Kabongo's mentors)
If a point guard is supposed to be a leader, be a coach on the floor, and encourage the team to play together and work harder (all things a boxscore doesn't tell you), then you are in really good hands with Myck. And it's that much more amazing when you factor in how young he is (he's only 21), and all the struggles he has faced -- he's still always going to have that big smile, and not get down. He's a positive ion, in a 6'2 frame.
Myck Kabongo has the physical tools to be a prototypical NBA point guard:
He is a legit 6'1.25" without shoes (which rounds up to an NBA 6'2 at the very least) with a 6'6.25" wingspan. His lane agility score was 10.64 seconds. Let's compare him to some NBA point guards and some guards from his own draft class.
Yeah, over all Myck holds his own physically. He does need to improve his upper body strength, but so many young guards need to do that, like Alec Burks who is going into his third year in the league. He's got great length + agility. He's not going to win many track meets, but his speed with the ball is more important -- and for that just re-watch his coast to coast buzzer beater again.
Myck Kabongo already is a great point guard.
It's not just his personality or leadership that's at an elite level. Or his solid balance in his size and speed. It's his actual game play. And really, the reason why I liked him in the first place was because of his ability to play the game of basketball. Sure, he's brighter than some medical students I've met, and has this Magic Johnson presence. But more than that it's his game, and the parts of his game that will translate to the NBA that matter to me.
At Texas last year in the games he was allowed to play in, he was the only guy the defense had to worry about. Let's not gloss over that by the time Kabongo was playing in his 5th game of the season his opponents had been playing 25. (Look at Hayward's first 5 games last yr, and imagine him playing against guys who had already gotten into the groove in their seasons) But at Texas he still managed to be one of the only PGs in this class to average 5 or more rebounds a game.
We know rebounds are a problem for our starting guards and bench guards alike. (Even Hayward doesn't get many boards, and he's 6'8) And we know rebounding is a skill that translates almost 1 : 1 from NCAA or Europe to the NBA. We also know that our DRB% as a team was poor because our wings and guards didn't board enough, and as a result, other teams got second or third chances to score on us, making our defense worse than it should have been. We would get the stop, but not the ball.
And the problem with that wasn't our bigs, our bigs did their jobs. They just had no help. Kabongo is a great rebounder for a guard. With him on the floor the defense isn't just better because he communicates, is long, and is quick. Or just because he averaged 2.0 steals a game last year. It's better because sometimes he finishes the defensive play by getting the rebound. Period. When we have the ball it means we did our job on defense. Guys like Burke, Larkin, Jackson, and Canaan weren't even close to 5 rebounds a game.
So there's that.
Myck is also great at penetrating and finding the right guy to pass to. We saw Larkin pass to the wrong guy at times, despite excellent penetration. Myck somehow averaged 5.5 apg on a really bad Texas squad, he wasn't playing with other 1st rounders on his team like some guys. On offense we really missed a drive and dish guy to set up our spot up shooters and our bigs who cut hard to the basket. If our guards did less MoFo maybe our wings and bigs wouldn't all have had near career lows across the board? Myck's main role on offense is a guy who breaks defenses down with his ball handling and penetration. Even if his role in the league is a bench guy, that's not a bad set of skills to have.
Steals, rebounds, assists . . . defensive instincts, a knack for where the ball is going, and court vision are three of the things you want from your point guard. He also went to the free throw line 7.0 times a game last year, so you need guys who can draw fouls to be good in this league. You also want a guy who can shoot. Kabongo isn't a great shooter -- but Mo Williams shot 29% from downtown in his NCAA career. For his NBA career he has shot 39%. Right now Kabongo is at 31%. If he works at it, he'll get better. In his first year in college he shot 68 ft%, last season he shot 79 ft%. He does work, and he is getting better. Which is encouraging because . . .
Myck Kabongo is aware of his flaws.
How likely are 20 year olds willing to have people break down how bad they are at things? At that age most 20 year olds think they know it all. Kabongo isn't one of those guys (this goes back to his maturity). He knows his flaws and will freely a) list them, and go farther than that to b) enumerate the steps he's currently taking to improve. Last year when he was the only guy on the court the defense had to worry about he turned the ball over. He's also not as strong as he wants to be and wants to be better at finishing with contact. Lastly, yes, his shot isn't as good as he wants it to be. Well, he watches a lot of gamefilm -- not just his own, but he watches game film of guys like Stockton, Isiah Thomas, Steve Nash, real floor generals who had the ball in their hands a lot but learned when to throw a pass and when to keep their dribble alive. He's also working out all summer long on his body, and if you follow him on instagram you can see that he's a lot stronger than he was when he left high school (essentially where Derrick Schroeder is now). The last thing he told me was that he has hired a full time shot doctor to complete break down his shot. Some guys wait until their second or third year in the league to fix their shot, and only after their front office has basically set the entire thing up. Kabongo is eager to fix his problems BEFORE he's even played one minute of summer league.
And that's no surprise to me. Why?
Myck Kabongo is one of the hardest working players in this draft.
He knows where he is in this world, and he knows what he can gain from it through hard work. His life experience showed him that honest effort and a good heart can find you a good life. He's a righteous young man who doesn't find the concept of dedication to be an old fashioned ideal. He lives it daily. (Seriously, who talks about God during a random video of a college kid showing people around his dorm room? Myck does.)
I love his dedication to getting better. In fact the whole NCAA ban was because, effectively, he needed to borrow money to buy a plane ticket to go to a basketball camp. He only needed that money because the NCAA doesn't allow student athletes to get good jobs (beyond selling NCAA tickets and jerseys). How many premed college students want to spend their summer learning organic chemistry, and had to ask a friend for the money to go to Orgo camp? The number is zero. But because he wanted to get better at basketball he had to do exactly that.
And whatever, it's a part of his history that he does not regret. His positivity allows him to incorporate that as another important life experience to help him understand his place in the world, and how lucky he is to be where he is. He learns. And he gets better. If he was a Predator, there would be no human race anymore.
Ultimately, though, Myck Kabongo is a guy who should be a 1st round Draft Pick.
But it's the out of sight / out of mind concept that's keeping him under the radar. Every year a really good player drops to the second round. I've been watching basketball since the early 1980s and been a huge draft geek since the 2000s. I'm wrong sometimes, and right sometimes. But this time I couldn't be more certain that Kabongo is a 1st round talent. While he may never ever ever ever play for our team, and with the NBA draft 5 hours away, I had to finish writing something about who he is . . . because so many people still don't know.
He would excel in any field because of his brightness and dedication. He chose basketball, so that's how I found out about him. And I wish him all the best and success in the future. Myck will delight the fans of the team he ends up with. I just hope that the team he ends up with knows just how lucky they are to have him.
N.B. This song is crazy