In a year where almost everything has gone wrong for Canadian point guard Myck Kabongo, he finally is getting the support he needs to get his basketball career back on track. After Kabongo was cut from Team Canada’s roster last week, Head Coach Jay Triano helped arrange for two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash to mentor Kabongo in Vancouver according to Steven Loung Sportsnet.ca.
“With Myck (Kabongo), we just think he needs a little bit more time in development,” Triano said. “He’s going to go out to Vancouver and start working with Steve (Nash). Steve’s getting ready for next season and we’re going to have Myck go out there and learn how to be a point guard under Steve. Before I made cuts I bounced ideas off (Nash) and we think Myck got better while he was here and has a bright future so we’re going to do whatever we can to help him.”
After a decent rookie season with the Texas Longhorns, everything went off the rails for Kabongo last summer when the NCAA ruled he had received a $475 impermissible benefit and suspended him for the entire season. Totally bizarre rulings from the NCAA aren’t anything new and on appeal, the suspension was reduced to 23 games, but the negative environment created effectively ended Kabongo’s college career and he entered the NBA draft from the weakest of positions. Reduced to hoping he would be a second round draft pick, Kabongo went undrafted and had to settle for NBA Summer League invite from the Miami HEAT.
Kabongo did manage to average 14.6 points, 5 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 2 steals in 11 games for Texas after his suspension, so it looked like he might be ready to impress the HEAT Brass in Orlando, but it became quickly apparent that wasn’t going to be the case. In what could only be described as a loss of confidence, the young point guard who had never experienced trouble getting into the paint and could finish from the free throw line suddenly could do neither and looked more than just a little lost on the court. The HEAT played better in Orlando and in Las Vegas with Kobango on the bench.
There was, however, going to be a another opportunity for Kabongo to showcase his skills with the Canadian Men’s National Basketball Team later in the summer and in years past, an NBA Summer League invite would be expected to make the team. Unfortunately for Kabongo, Team Canada has become a lot deeper and more talented in the last couple of years and he would have to win a spot on the roster headed to the FIBA Americas tournament later this summer. With the Spurs Corey Joseph holding down the starting point guard job, Kabongo wasn’t assured of anything.
Canada played Jamaica in a pair of friendly exhibition games in Toronto dubbed the Jack Donohue International Classic and Kabongo got his chance to show what he could do in the second game. Jamaica used a lot of zone defense and with no defensive three-second rule in FIBA games, Kabongo was seeing as many as five Jamaicans standing with a foot in the paint and not moving. His response was confusion, passing without a purpose and driving into traffic, Kabongo had a very unproductive 8.4 minutes. In the two exhibition games against Jamaica, it was Baylor University’s Brady Heslip who had the zone busting three-point shot and pinpoint passing that won Canada both games.
Canada brought 19 players to their training camp and there will be several bona fide stars arriving over next few summers as Anthony Bennett, Kelly Olynyk and Andrew Wiggins come on board, but Triano made it clear he is building a program and just because a player doesn’t make this summer’s final roster doesn’t mean they can’t be on the team in the future.
“It is going to be difficult to make cuts,” Triano said. “But we are trying to convince our guys that if you are not on the team this year, it doesn’t mean you are not with Canada Basketball.”
After Kabongo played against Jamaica, he knew his time with Team Canada was going to be cut short, but the young point guard didn’t let the situation get him down. He still exuded confidence in his skills and his ability to continue to improve as he talked to the media in the locker room after the game. The completely unnecessary 23-game NCAA suspension that killed his college hopes and any chance at being drafted in the first round in June has setback his professional career, but the potential to get back on track remains and some personal coaching from Nash should go a long ways to expediting the process.
This past year has been a massive bump in the road for Kabongo’s development, however, the good news has been Kabongo still has scouts, coaches and managers that see the potential and are willing to give him another look. From the Summer League invite by the HEAT, to Team Canada arranging for Steve Nash to work with Kabongo this summer, there is more to Kabongo’s future that just another young player’s confidence in himself. It will be interesting to see where Kabongo lands professionally this season and what he can bring to his National Team with another year under his belt next summer.
Stephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre. A member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association, Stephen is the editor and publisher of Pro Bball Report.
You can follow Stephen on twitter @stevesraptors