Jonathan Kuminga is an emerging star on the first-ever NBA G League Ignite team, a select contract given to the top prospects in the world.
A 6-foot-8 forward originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kuminga was a standout star in high school before signing a one-year contract with the G League developmental program.
Kuminga recently caught up with HoopsHype to discuss what the program has looked like, the bond he and his teammates share and more.
Please note this interview was very minorly edited for brevity and clarity.
You’ve been one of the top prospects for a few years now. But I’m curious: how did you first fall in love with basketball?
Jonathan Kuminga: I don’t even remember the first time I fell in love with it because it’s been there since I was a little kid. My parents played basketball. My brother played ball. Growing up, we used to see Kobe Bryant. We used to go on YouTube the day we got money from our mom whenever she got paid. There were places we could buy internet access and you were able to use the computer for 30 minutes. I would type in the name Kobe and it gave you everything. I loved watching Kobe.
When did you first realize you had a talent for the game and that basketball had the possibility of taking you somewhere?
JK: Everybody that I grew up around was way older than I was. Everyone has their own skill level. But I felt like I was getting better, fast. Every day, I put work in and competed well against all the players I faced. I was standing out and that’s how I got my chance to come to the United States. Now, I’m here today.
What would a younger version of yourself think about the opportunities that you have now as a professional basketball player for the first time?
JK: I don’t know how to say it but I feel like it’s just a big blessing to be here. I’m learning more things every day being around all different types of people.
That is something I wanted to discuss with you today. Your team on the G League Ignite comes from all around the world. Kai Sotto is from the Philippines. Daishen Nix is from Alaska. Princepal Singh is from India. You’re from Congo. What’s the best part about the chance to experience such a melting spot in one space?
JK: It’s been great. I feel like I get to see so many different cultures. Any time I hang out with Kai and Princepal and Daishen and Jalen and Isaiah and the vets, I’m learning new stuff. I’m listening to what they’re saying and listening to what they’re doing. I’m watching what they’re doing and learning every day.
Speaking of the veterans, what’s it like playing with guys like Amir Johnson who have been in the NBA? That was a cool idea. What are you taking away from that?
JK: It’s been a great thing to be around them. Any time you do something and you were great, even if you were a top recruit, there will always be people that have been there and have done the same thing that you want to do. Being around all those guys, they can correct you on any of the bad things you might be doing. It’s been great having them around. They tell me you have to get your job done early. You have to listen to what everyone tells you. Focus. Work hard every day. Those are the small things that can prepare you and make you be great.
What is the environment like now that you are a professional for the first time in your career?
JK: We are around each other all of the time. We have our own places but we hang out all of the time. We’re family. We’re brothers. We spend so much time together, we have jokes, we talk about everything.
These are some of the best prospects in the world. How competitive are the practices and what is the intensity like?
JK: It’s a different level. It gets too crazy, super competitive. Just being around those guys, nobody wants to lose. Nobody wants anybody to bully them or do anything like that. It gets crazy. We really go at it each and every day. We put in the work every day. Every day we step on this court, we really work hard. We have lifting in the morning. We come back. We get on the court. The facility is a pretty nice place. We have our logo on the floor.
You were one of the best high school players in the country and one of the top players on the Nike EYBL circuit. But how do you think you have gotten better since we’ve last seen you?
JK: A lot of people haven’t seen me play since my last game of high school. Now that I’m a professional athlete, I feel like I’ve grown more of my game. My outside game, my inside game, my shooting skills, my dribbling skills, just playing off the ball more, playing defense. I’ve really worked on that. I’ve really worked on my jumper. It feels way easier. I’m way more consistent at it. It’s the main thing I had to work on and I’ve gotten a lot more intelligent when it comes to the way to play the game of basketball. My mobility has improved. I’m more flexible. I’m working on my knees. I’m working on my body. If your body is not feeling good, you are not really going to perform at the highest level.
I’m also curious: who are some of your favorite players from Congo?
JK: I’m my own favorite. I’ll say it. [Laughs] Dikembe Mutombo is also a legend from the Congo. Everyone knew who he was.
I’m sure another one of your favorites was your brother Joel Ntambwe. What would it mean for you to be able to play with him again one day?
JK: Hopefully next year in the NBA, I can either play against him or we can play on the same team.
Last one for you: I know you love fashion. What are your favorite shoes to play in?
JK: I like to hoop in Kobe’s. I also like the KD lows. They’re my favorite players and I feel like I kind of move like them. It’s super comfortable playing with those shoes.
Jonathan is in the next stage of the 2K League Winter Cla$h? The 2v2 Park Tournament stage is on Friday, 12/11 at 7pm on the 2K League’s Twitch and YouTube accounts.
Basketball, D-League, Draft, DunkWire, Interview, Top, Amir Johnson, Brian Shaw, Daishen Nix, Isaiah Todd, Jalen Green, Joel Ntambwe, Jonathan Kuminga, Kai Sotto, Kobe Bryant, Princepal Singh, G League, G League Ignite