The U16 Afrobasket tournament that took place in Monastir, Tunisia, in July, showcased a number of young basketball talents.
One of them is Kenrik Kabano, a US-based shooting guard whose smooth handling of the ball, shooting instinct and game intelligence were a beauty to watch.
If you followed the competition, you must have noticed the young guard donning shirt 13 who starred with a game high 21 points against Egypt in the quarterfinals, despite Rwanda losing to the North Africans.
Born in Ohio, United States, in 2008, Kabano saw the 2023 U16 Afrobasket as his first ever national team duty, and he can barely hide his excitement back to the time he was handed a debut call up in early July to represent Rwanda at such a big stage.
On July 1, he spent the whole day at the school gym shooting threes. His sister Kelia was playing in a very competitive Tennis tournament, and so, their father Mike Kabano would go back and forth to check on both of them.
“This time when he (Mike) returned to the gym, he challenged me to hit 30 points in a row which I did consecutively. Then he said, you could do this for the U16 national team,” recalls Kabano.
“I didn’t think I had a chance as I had missed the FIBA Africa U16 qualifiers. I watched all the qualifying games and wished I had been in Kigali,” he adds.
A younger Kenrik attending a football match in Houston alongside his father Mike. Kenrik hails from a sports loving family.
Exactly the following day, while on their way home, Mike got a call from the Rwanda Basketball Federation (FERWABA) informing him that his son had been summoned to join the U16 national team. The youngster could not believe it when his father informed him about the call up.
“I felt adrenaline run through my body,” he told Times Sport.
Kabano was excited to represent his country for the first time at such a big stage but he was a bit of worried because he had never travelled alone outside the United States.
He says he consoled his fears by imagining himself on an international platform he had never been to.
For the following couple of days, he prepared for the trip to Kigali since the tournament was barely 10 days away. Rwanda’s first game was scheduled on July 13 against Tunisia. When Kabano stepped on the court, he made his presence felt as Rwanda beat the North Africans 78:59.
He had a great game where among other good plays, he netted a three pointer with one minute left to the end of the third quarter, extending Rwanda’s lead by 35-18, and stamping the team’s authority on the game.
Subsequently, he registered a number of beautiful performances, playing a role as the team finished fifth out of the 10 nations that took part in the tournament.
The youngster hails from a quite athletic Rwandan family. His mother Rosine (R) played volleyball, while his father Mike (C) played tennis. His younger sister Kelia (second left), plays tennis.
Who is Kenrik Ntare Kabano?
Kabano hails from quite an athletic Rwandan family. His mother Rosine Kabaziga Kabano played volleyball, while his father Mike Kabano played tennis. His younger sister Kelia Iliza Kabano, 12, plays tennis while his younger brother Kai Manzi Kabano, 7, plays soccer and tennis.
“Sports is life and basketball is a passion we treasure. My family has a lineage of very tall people, especially men. My father was like 6′ 8″(2.03m). My mother’s father (Sarambu wa Cyitatire cya Kigeli IV Rwabugiri) and grandfather were close to 7 feet (2.1m) tall,” Kenrik’s mother, Rosine, told Times Sport.
“With that, I always imagined that all the men in my lineage would have found ease in playing the game because of their height. With Kenrik’s current height at 6′ 2″, one doesn’t know how tall he will grow,” she added.
Younger Kenrik featuring at an AAU match.
Though she can’t recall when exactly Kabano picked the basketball for the first time, she says “it was right before he started walking.”
“I remember on his second birthday photo shoot; he was given several balls and he chose to hold the basketball instead of a soccer and American football.”
“He has been playing basketball since he was three-four years old. He grew up watching Cleveland Cavaliers and would always introduce himself as “Kenny from Cleveland, Ohio,” she narrates.
A couple of years later, he started playing basketball through Upwards Sports, a program that partners with churches to leverage sports in the community. He has also previously played through YMCA basketball before advancing to Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) basketball, an amateur sports organization based in the United States.
The AAU is exclusively dedicated to the promotion and development of amateur sports and physical fitness programs. Through AAU, he has had the chance to build relationships, make friends, learn from different coaches, and travel.
Kenrik Kabano told Times Sport that basketball makes him feel rewarded for working tirelessly, and he knows that, to be a great player, he will need to give it all.
“My dream is to keep playing because I love this game and hope to progress to the top some day and get to the big leagues,” he says.
Besides his basketball dream, Kabano sees himself doing great things in his academic life where he hopes to be an orthopedic surgeon.
“Personally, I am inspired to help and make a difference with matters that involve health, especially for the underserved. Some day if I am no longer playing basketball, I will be embracing the world of medicine which has encouraged my aspirations of becoming an Orthopedic Surgeon,” he says.
From a young age, Kenrik’s parents exposed him to sports. Here, he is posing with a basketball at age 2.
“I would like to better the lives and health of many people, including fellow athletes, young or old. I envision impacting a wider community through my work as a sports surgeon, with volunteering efforts, doing needful research, health education while offering an environment filled with fun.”
“My goal someday is to travel globally and open up a hospital, sports clinics, offer free and/or affordable healthcare and education to citizens of Africa,” he adds.
Off the court, Kenrik’s mother says his son is “a sweet, loving gentle boy.”
“He is quiet but warms up pretty quick when he gets to know you. He is funny and has a great sense of humor. Just like any other boy of his age, he is figuring out what he likes to do outside sports,” she says.
Parental support in basketball
Being a parent of a young athlete requires a huge commitment in terms of emotional support, time and energy, Rosine says.
“Whatever it takes, we will help him learn how to handle the ups and downs of competition till the end,” she says.
For her, she can only hope that Kenrik continues to love and find the game of basketball challenging.
“Wherever he goes with this game is up to how much he can put in,” she notes.
Kabano closes down an Egyptian player during the quarterfinals of the U16 Afrobasket in Tunisia. He was the top scorer in the game with 21 points
The youngster seems ready for the challenge. He is convinced that “this game isn’t just about putting the ball in the basket all the time but having that split second gut of passing it on to whoever is open so we win as a team.”
With that, he notes that he is a player who constantly wants to get better and is very determined to see that it happens.
Speaking about the opportunity of representing Rwanda at the U16 Afrobasket, he says it was “an honour and an experience” he never imagined.
“I am grateful for the opportunity and I count myself blessed to enjoy the advantages of being part of the national team. Thank you FERWABA, thank you Rwanda for giving me such an awesome chance and look forward to many more,” he says.