When Mfiondu Kabengele arrived at Florida State, by way of Don Bosco Prep School in northern Indiana, he was an unheralded prospect with labels like “raw” and “potential.” In fact, Kabengele had little interest from major programs besides FSU and he was best known for having a famous uncle, former NBA great Dikembe Mutombo.
Three years later, Kabengele is leaving Tallahassee as a first round draft pick in the 2019 NBA draft after being taken by the Brooklyn Nets (and was then promptly traded to the L.A. Clippers) with the 27th pick.
While “Fi” (as he’s known by teammates and coaches) benefited from a late growth spurt that saw him transform from a 6’6 wing to a 6’10 stretch forward, he didn’t attain this accomplishment by chance. Praised by those within the program for his work ethic, selflessness, and high basketball IQ, Kabengele’s journey calls to mind the American Dream.
The son of parents from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kabengele grew up in Ontario, Canada before spending a year at prep school and then finally matriculating to FSU. With the Seminoles’ roster containing future NBA players like Jonathan Isaac and Dwayne Bacon, Kabengele accepted a redshirt during the 2016-17 season and spent the year supporting his teammates, growing into his body, and learning Leonard Hamilton’s defensive principles.
The following year, Kabengele flashed his potential on both ends of the court as he played in 34 of the team’s 35 games and helped the Seminoles make a surprising run to the Elite 8.
This past year, Kabengele seemingly improved by the game, or even half, helping lead FSU to another Sweet 16 appearance. After battling persistent foul trouble early in the season, Kabengele displayed an ability to take over games in the nation’s toughest conference, often raising his level of play as the stakes got higher. Never starting a game in his Seminole career, his efforts earned him the ACC Sixth Man of the Year award in near unanimous fashion.
To the Clippers, Kabengele brings tenacious rebounding, rim protection, shot making out to three point range, and the ability to defend multiple positions in the ever-evolving “position-less” league. In order to reach his ceiling he’ll need to continue to develop his perimeter shooting touch, avoid silly fouls, and learn how to create plays for his teammates instead of forcing a bad shot. However, his physicality, willingness to do the “dirty work,” and basketball IQ could put him in position to make positive contributions right off the bat.
With Malik Beasley going 19th in the 2016 NBA Draft and Jonathan Isaac going 6th in the 2017 NBA Draft, Kabengele becomes the third men’s Seminole basketball player taken in the first round over the last four years.