Still in the early stages of his professional career, Rio Grande Valley Vipers’ Mfiondu Kabengele has already experienced a lot.
After playing two seasons at Florida State University, the 2019 ACC Sixth Man of the Year was drafted by the Brooklyn Nets in the first round of the 2019 NBA Draft before being traded to the Los Angeles Clippers on the same night. He would split time between the NBA squad and the Agua Caliente Clippers of the NBA G League.
Last season, Mfiondu was traded by the Clippers to the Sacramento Kings, who waived him days later. In April, he joined the Cleveland Cavaliers on a 10-day contract initially, followed by another one, then a multi-year contract. He played 16 games for the Cavs and displayed some potential, including scoring 14 points and grabbing four rebounds vs. Dallas in May.
Ahead of the 2021-22 season, he was waived by Cleveland, signed briefly with the Houston Rockets, before eventually landing with the Vipers.
While some would look at those multiple stops early in his career as a negative, the Vipers’ big man feels the opposite way. “Most definitely,” Mfiondu said when asked if he considers it an advantage. “Every team that I’ve been on introduces something different. With the Clippers, it was a lot of professionalism, training. When I was in Cleveland, it was attitude, effort, you know, the little things.”
“Now that I’m here, I’m going to put that all together,” he said, adding that he’s thankful to have seen all aspects of that while still just 24 years old.
That extended run with Cleveland to end last season served as a great springboard for Mfiondu entering this campaign. Discussing how to carry that momentum over to this season, he explained, “I’m going to continue to play hard, do my job, rebound, do what I can to get myself out there.”
“But most importantly, just take care of winning. When we win, things take care of themselves. So, if I can affect winning in some way with my skill set, I’ll get back to where I need to be.”
Winning is exactly what the Vipers have done this season. With the promising big man playing a key role, the Vipers are off to a 5-0 start to the season. Kabengele is averaging 16.0 points and 10.0 rebounds per game. In last night’s 125-123 win over the Capitanes de Ciudad de México, he went for a season-high 22 points (on 81.8% shooting) to go along with nine rebounds.
Tomorrow, Mfiondu and his Rio Grande Valley teammates will look to keep their perfect season going as they host their in-state rivals, the Austin Spurs, at Bert Ogden Arena (Tickets are still available HERE).
In addition to South Texas and his native Canada, Kabengele also represents the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where both of his parents are from, when he’s showcasing his skills out there on the court.
“When I was a kid, it was introduced early, as soon as I was born,” he said about his exposure to African culture by his parents. “African food, African music, African clothing, African language, we speak Lingala over there, so growing up, it was introduced to me a lot.”
“When I come and play, I feel very proud of representing my people because that’s what raised me.”
The most recognizable NBA player from the DR Congo is Hall of Famer Dikembe Mutombo, who happens to be Mfiondu’s uncle and a great resource to the young professional. “I talk to him all the time,” Kabengele said of his relationship with the legendary shot-blocker. “Anytime on weekends or off days, just asking questions about how I can improve myself.”
When asked how fun a matchup vs. his uncle in his prime would have been, Mfioundu answered, “You know, he’s a great shot blocker, but I don’t think he could handle me on the outside.”
That ability on the outside is an area of focus for Kabengele as he continues to develop in the constantly-evolving game of professional basketball. With a priority on improving his three-point shooting, he also lists his driving angles as something he’s working on. “I want to be able to attack closeouts and make plays off the dribble, especially when I’m picking and popping,” Mfiondu said.
In addition to those skills, he explained that Vipers fans can expect a lot of energy, effort, and heart from him this season and that he would give the Rockets the same thing if he earns an opportunity to get back to the NBA.
By: Carson Merk