TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (seminoles.com) — The 2016 recruiting class was one of the best ever for the Florida State men’s basketball team.
Three freshmen – Jonathan Isaac, Trent Forrest and CJ Walker – and two junior college transfers – Braian Angola and PJ Savoy – lived up to the billing, helping to continue the winning culture on the basketball court in Tallahassee. With a trip to the NCAA Tournament and a second-place finish in the ACC standings in 2017 under head coach Leonard Hamilton, it should come as no surprise that each newcomer played an integral role in helping Florida State make valuable strides as a program a season ago.
Mfiondu Kabelgele has emerged from the Seminoles’ 2016 recruiting class as one of the most surprising performers of the 2016-17 season for Florida State. He enters Wednesday’s game against Clemson averaging 7.1 points and 4.8 rebounds while having played in 24 of Florida State’s 25 games.
Kabengele is a 6-foot-10, 230-pound forward who is in his second season with the Seminoles after redshirting in 2016-17. He hails from Burlington, Ontario, and is the nephew of Basketball Hall-of-Famer Dikembe Mutombo.
After sitting out of AAU basketball during his sophomore year to train and develop, Mfiondu began to draw attention from established college basketball programs across the country. Six schools – Wisconsin, Georgetown, Kansas State, Georgia, Boston College and Florida State – all came calling.
Kabengele sought guidance from his uncle.
“When I went on my college visits, he told me questions to ask, rather than being star-struck with the coaches and how they treat you,” said Kabengele. “He was very strategic on how to approach the process. He told me to not only look at the name of the school, but at the people who were there and the other variables around it. He was really great about everything.”
Like his uncle, Kabengele possesses a fabulous shot-blocking wingspan paired with a smile and charisma that is almost as big as his stature.
As one of his roommates, guard Trent Forrest knows Kabengele as well as any member of the team.
“He is a great person to be around,” said Forrest. “He has a great sense of humor, and that translates in the locker room and helps the overall chemistry of the team.”
But on the court, Kabengele has his own unique game that he has displayed in helping the Seminoles to three wins over nationally ranked teams this season.
“I love emulating Lamar Odom. I love Kevin Love. I love Draymond Green, especially because he’s surrounded by stars and great players but still finds his niche and maximizes it,” said Kabengele.
Growing up a Lakers fan, Kabengele watched his favorite team make consecutive NBA Finals appearances in 2009 and 2010. He learned that Odom’s unique ability to play a crucial role behind stars Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol was a key element to the Laker’s success.
Now trying to make a name for himself in a similar role, Kabengele’s ability to understand his role with the team is exactly what Florida State has needed this season.
With numerous players who can generate offense on their own and for others, the Seminoles needed someone who was willing to rebound, play defense, and help finish games. Kabengele is the player who is willing to do the little things – making the plays that often going unnoticed in the box score.
“We have so many talented guys on our team, and guys obviously want to score and make passes and do certain things.,” Kabengele said. “I think with myself, I’m finding my niche and maximizing it, whether it be defending or blocking shots. Because what I have done, my role has grown.”
Hamilton is happy with Kabengele’s progress this season.
“He’s been a very pleasant surprise,” Hamilton said. “He has been a man on a mission to make sure that he is mentally, emotionally, as well as physically, prepared for the season. Mfiondu is really excited about making a contribution. Any time a guy can make that level of sacrifice for his teammates, that’s good to see.”
Kabengele averaged 19 points and 10 rebounds during his final season at Bosco Prep in Crown Point, Ind. He shot 53 percent from the field, including 38 percent from 3-point line, and 81 percent from the free throw line.
He excels in the post, can dribble well for a player his size, and can defend multiple positions.
“Mfiondu has taken full advantage of his redshirt year,” FSU assistant Dennis Gates said. “He has improved his ability to prepare himself both on and off of the court, to where he can compete at a championship level. His attention to detail has allowed for tremendous growth in the weight room and how he prepares for practice.”
“His best basketball is ahead of and we are looking forward to his continued development on the court. We are looking forward to him contributing to our continued success on the court this season.”
Kabengele has become a versatile cog in the Seminoles’ rotation and has been tested throughout the season. Fortunately, he’s been well prepared by the coaching staff, and has received some important advice from his uncle.
“One of the main things he says is very basic,” Kabengele said. “‘Work your tail off.’”