Don Mike Irumva is determined to be a basketball success story. But the 17-year-old who hails from the small east African nation of Burundi is aware of the odds that are stacked against him. Nonetheless, standing 7 feet tall, and driven by his passion for the game, he believes he is more than equipped to tower over them.
“People don’t believe enough in us,” he said. “They think maybe because we are in Africa we can’t succeed in basketball even though we are good at it, that doesn’t mean we’ll get the opportunities to show what we are capable of."
But without a doubt, Irumva believes he and his teammates are more than capable. “I was at a semi-final of a tournament, the team against us was leading 68 to 67 so the game went so fast at that time and a teammate passed me the ball and I shot. There were like 10 seconds left and I made it, it’s a good souvenir that I keep in my memory,” he said.
Basketball is growing in popularity on the African continent, but it still trails behind football. Ironically, it was while attending a football match with his father at 7-years-old that Irumva got his first introduction to basketball.
“When I was a young kid, probably six or seven years old, me and my brothers used to go watch our father playing football with his friends. But I was not very interested in playing football so during all the football matches I was on the basketball court beside the football court and that was more interesting to watch, so I told my father I wanted to play basketball,” he said.
Although disappointed at first, his father agreed and rallied the family to support his son’s dream.
“I want to play in the NBA and to be a role model for the Burundian younger generation,” the shooting guard and power forward stated.
To achieve this, he has appointed the late legendary player, Kobe Bryant as his role model whose skill and attitude will serve as his blueprint.
“He [ Kobe Bryant] was a hard worker and a loyal player he had been playing for Lakers for almost of his life,” he said.
He also joined P.H.A.S.E.1 Academy in the capital Bujumbura in November last year and is already noticing improvements in his game.
“I’ve improved in handles dribbling the most, and endurance and in tactic,” he said.