Tanguy Ngombo Rumors
Only now, the Timberwolves were jumping in. They made a deal with Portland to get the pick, and had the Blazers tell the Mavericks to select an under-the-radar prospect they long had their eyes on. Only that player wasn’t Thomas, the diminutive University of Washington guard who would be taken three selections later with the final pick in the draft, and ultimately become a NBA All-Star with the Boston Celtics. Instead, Minnesota selected Tanguy Ngombo—an unexpected choice that would produce one of the weirdest stories in draft history. “You look back and you can say, ‘of course we should have taken Isaiah Thomas,'” says Pete Philo, the Timberwolves’ director of scouting and player personnel from 2005 to 2013. “We evaluated Isaiah Thomas. I loved Isaiah Thomas. I’ve long believed that since the hand-check rules changed in the early 2000s, smaller point guards go undervalued. “But we just didn’t have a roster spot. And our entire scouting staff watched tape on Tanguy and felt like we had an under-the-radar guy.”
“[They] said there’s a pretty talented kid in Doha, you should take a look,” Philo says. “So I said okay. I evaluate leagues, I evaluate players, and typically, good talent doesn’t come out of Doha. But I’ll go anywhere if there’s a chance there’s talent. That’s the job. “So I went down, and I’m watching this tournament. I was intrigued, no red flags yet, got pretty good size for his position, was bouncy, and made shots. So I was like, ‘huh.’ And I filed it away.”
As far as Philo or anyone with the Timberwolves knew, Ngombo was born on July 18, 1989. “Every single time I was around anything in terms of documentation—brochures, flyers, stat sheets, everything his name was on—said 1989,” Philo says. “So to me, he’s eligible. I can’t tell you how many guys I’ve scouted internationally, but it’s been a lot. I can’t remember the last time I said, ‘there’s something fishy, let me figure out if he’s the real age or not.’ It says 1989, you see it on multiple documents, away you go. He’s draft-eligible.”
“I told him about the reports out there,” Philo says. “He said he didn’t know what I was talking about, he’s born in 1989. I asked him if he was absolutely positive, that there were reports that you played in a tournament years ago under a 1984 birthday. Tanguy explained that if this is true he had no knowledge of it, which led to me asking him what he meant by ‘to his knowledge.’ That led to him saying something really interesting, in my mind.” Which was? “As far as I know, that’s how old I am.” Philo says he asked Ngombo what he meant by that. Ngombo told him he didn’t know what a birth certificate was. So Philo asked Ngombo if he had his passport on him. According to Philo, Ngombo answered that “the sheikh had it.”
A week later, Philo got a copy of Ngombo’s passport. It said that Ngombo’s birthday was 1989. But there was a problem. “It looked like it was brand new, just done,” Philo says. “My assumption is that he never got his [real] passport. Tanguy felt so nervous—and I don’t know this for a fact, I’m guessing—but I think he went and had a passport made on his own because the sheikh wouldn’t give him the passport. “So I felt bad for the kid. It’s a life-changer for him. He got drafted by an NBA team. It’s the happiest day of his life. But now, he’s got this NBA team calling him in a panic trying to figure things out when even he doesn’t have the answers.