The Democratic Republic of Congo’s Kuminga, who was one of the top high school prospects in the US at The Patrick School in Hillside, New Jersey, has had a decent start to his NBA career after being drafted as the seventh overall pick in 2021.
Most 20-year-olds would be content with 137 regular season NBA appearances, 26 playoff appearances and a championship ring over the course of two seasons, but Kuminga feels he has not yet lived up to others’ expectations of superstardom.
Kuminga told ESPN at the Basketball without Borders camp in South Africa: “This upcoming season is definitely the year.
“A lot of people are expecting so much from me – and myself; I’m expecting a lot. It’s a lot of pressure, but I don’t really pay attention to the noise.
“The pressure is always going to be there. It’s just [on] me to go out there and perform.”
Other NBA players coaching at BWB Africa this year included Miami Heat‘s Bam Adebayo, Orlando Magic‘s Jalen Suggs, Cleveland Cavaliers‘ Darius Garland and Senegalese big man Tacko Fall, who most recently played for the Milwaukee Bucks at the NBA Summer League.
Kuminga, who was born in Goma, DR Congo, and moved to the US to play high school basketball in 2016, was at BWB to coach 80 of the most talented African high school players – 40 boys and 40 girls.
Some campers have been dealing with similar expectations to Kuminga. Indeed, last year’s MVP, Thierry Darlan, who currently plays for Kuminga’s old team, G League Ignite, is widely expected to be a first round 2024 draft pick.
Kuminga said that he hoped to be the mentor he once needed and help prepare Darlan, who was also coaching at the camp, for the weight he would carry on his shoulders in upcoming years.
“I actually want to get some time with him and not really mentor him, but tell him what it’s about with Ignite, what it’s about to get drafted and be an NBA player at a young age,” Kuminga said.
“It’s just the little details. You’ve got to always give some knowledge to people even if you didn’t receive as much as you needed. The ones who are coming after you, you’ve definitely got to look out for them.”
On the specific advice that he imparted to BWB campers, Kuminga said: “I never got a chance to come here. I was supposed to, but then I ended up going to America.
“The sky is the limit. You never know who is watching. You never know who is there who is going to watch you one day. Be aware of things and just work hard.”
By the end of the camp, he had passed at least some of his wisdom on. Reflecting on their conversation, Darlan told ESPN: “I talked to him the last day. He told me: ‘You’re always welcome. Stay by my side; keep working and keep pushing.’ He told me to be me.”
2023 Boys MVP Khaman Maluach had a similarly positive experience of Kuminga. The 16-year-old from South Sudan, also a Basketball Africa League stalwart, said: “I asked him what really motivated him because he was in my shoes once and now, he’s an NBA champion, so I asked him.
“[His motivation was] his family and Africa. He really puts Africa in front… and that’s what I’m using right now for motivation.”
Kuminga may still have dreams of superstardom, but now that he has already tasted success, there is one priority which he places above anything he could achieve in basketball.
“The achievement [I crave] is just growing as a person – there’s nothing more important than growing as a person,” he said.
“As long as you grow as a person, that opens up a lot of doors. Now you know what to do on the court and now you know what to do off the court – just [by] growing up.”