Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Division-I Build Up At Believe Features UNLV Target Ntambwe

On the cusp of his senior season and nearing a college decision, Believe Academy’s Joel Ntambwe finds himself inundated with offers.

 UNLV appears to be upping the ante for the versatile 6-foot-8, 205-pound forward, who holds additional offers from Rhode Island, Providence, Arkansas, Wichita State, West Virginia, Duquesne, Tennessee, Iona, Tulsa and a handful of others.

 Ntambwe’s diversified skill-set in handling the ball and passing exceptionally well for a player of his size ultimately met the eye of assistant coach Andre Lafleur. Rebels head coach Marvin Menzies will be at Believe Academy’s sprawling Athens, Tenn. Campus to see Ntambwe this week.

“I think the biggest thing he can present is the opportunity to be multi-positional,” said Rens AAU Executive Director Andy Borman, who helped cultivate a defensive presence in Ntambwe while assessing his make-up this past summer.

“Versatility is king. I think Joel can be a Justice Winslow type of recruit where he has to ask himself, ‘Am I a guard? Am I a forward? It doesn’t matter because I’m kicking your butt out there.’ I mean Winslow, he even played some center for the Miami Heat. It is hard to define it in one role.”

That jack of all trades skill-set within Ntamwbe was evident at the CYP tournament in Westchester County, N.Y. this past spring.

 During a showcase event which featured the likes of Jose Alvarado (Georgia Tech), Aaron Wheeler (Purdue), and 2017 New York State Mr. Basketball Isaiah Washington (Minnesota), scored 22 points in helping High Major throttle the Gauchos in a 112-81 slaying.

A major component of Ntambwe’s evolution has been his body transformation.

 While he’s still in the process of making fitness a livelihood, he enters a heavily-competitive environment at Believe with added strength.

“The thing that helped me the most was confronting the fact that I wasn’t very strong at first,” said Ntambwe, who spent the summer working and taking classes at Believe.

“My trainers and several other people just pushed me in the weight room non-stop. They helped me work on my upper body strength. I was able to increase my strength and footwork and work away at ball-handling at my shot.”

With length, a vastly improved mid-range game, a still-developing 3-point shot, and a notable knack for exploiting smaller defenders on forays to the rim, Ntambwe has the capabilities to create severe matchup headaches. 

He’s displayed a versatility in guarding the two through the four positions while sparking the break fresh off a defensive rebound.

He’s also quite well-traveled. Ntambwe, who entered the United States out of the Congo, began his career at Sunrise Christian (KS).

In what appeared to be a pattern of drifting from one school to the other, Ntambwe flirted with the idea of attending both Iona Prep and later Scotland Campus Sports following a one-year stay at Forest Trails Academy in North Carolina.

In the tumultuous world of prep school basketball, where loyalties are nearly impossible to come by and the transfer rate seems unrivaled, Ntambwe’s story is not atypical.

Heavily-pursued recruits such as Luguentz Dort (Athlete’s Institute), Chol Marial (IMG Academy), Josh Green (IMG Academy), and Jeenathan Williams (Prolific Prep) are just a few examples of off-season transfers that generated headlines. The hothouse environment of prep school recruiting is as cutthroat as ever.

Ntambwe chose Believe because of the program’s massive infusion of talent in 2017-18. Led by Trace Young, a 6-foot-7 post graduate with offers from USC and Kentucky, Believe is expected to feature in the vicinity of 30 Division-I players.

Ntambwe’s relationship with Believe head honcho Tyson Waterman, who has coached at the Division-I level and plied his trade during a Hall of Fame career at Winthrop, also factored into his decision.

Ntambwe will play under head coach Brad Traina, a First Team All-Conference guard who set various of records at UCF. Traina, who authored a 10-year professional career in Europe, where he played against the likes of Manu Ginobili, Paul Gasol and Thabo Sefolosha, coached at DME Academy and The Conrad School in Orlando.

 At Conrad last season, Traina pulled of a recruiting coup in landing an explosive, underrated 6-foot-6 guard/forward in Quentin Scott. Scott, a Louisiana native who pieced together several 30+ point games as a post-graduate, is currently at Texas State.

With a ramped up roster and a rapid increase in enrollment, Believe will gauge its talent on a national level. The program will compete on the Grind Session circuit, which has added a variety of the country’s superpowers in 2017-18.  

Brimming with confidence, Ntambwe is eager to dispel the notion that he's a mid-major talent. He gained confidence following a 32-point eruption at a Dyckman Park tournament this summer, showing out in a hostile environment.

Surrounded by high-level talent this summer, Ntambwe is adapting to the work rate required at the next level. Among those in his corner are his highly-touted younger brother, 6-foot-7 Class of 2021 guard Jonathon Kaminga. Considered one of the top ranked freshman in the country, Kaminga went viral this summer with his prodigious vertical leaping ability.