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Former Mountain Mission trio starring on the basketball court | sportsnews

Those who wandered into the cozy gymnasium located on Edgewater Drive in Grundy, Virginia, on a bitterly cold evening in the winter of 2016 or on a pleasant spring afternoon in 2017, were in the presence of basketball royalty even if they might not have realized it at the time.

The tall, skinny kid blocking all those shots? That was Florent “Flo” Thamba and he started every game for the Baylor Bears during their run to the 2020-21 NCAA national championship.

The powerful young man relentlessly grabbing rebounds and scoring at will in the paint? That’d be Oscar Tshiebwe and he was college basketball’s consensus player of the year this past season for the University of Kentucky Wildcats.

How about the middle schooler flashing all that potential while slashing to the hoop or hounding a ball handler? Turns out that was Jonathan Kuminga and he capped his rookie season with the Golden State Warriors last week with an NBA championship.

All three are from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the trio spent the 2016-17 school year together enrolled at Mountain Mission School in Buchanan County.

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“Praise the Lord for the accolades our young men have earned and for the attention this could shine on the work being done at Mountain Mission School,” said former Mountain Mission coach Jared L. Miller.

Kuminga’s first year in the United States was spent in Southwest Virginia.

“He was in seventh and eighth grade classes that year as he learned English,” Miller said. “I arrived after school had started because of some visa issues.”

It didn’t take him long to get acclimated, especially on the basketball court.

“We were able to find a young man who was very gifted athletically at a very young age,” said Al Wilson, also a coach at Mountain Mission during that time. “He was, and is, very intelligent. He had to overcome the language barrier as well as a completely new environment and he worked at it tirelessly. He assimilated to Mountain Mission’s culture after a time and began to excel in the community, classroom and on the court.”

In a program that was loaded with the talent at the time, Kuminga had to put in some serious work to get noticed.

“JK played on our second team that year and worked out with our top team when possible,” Miller said. “It was really in spring open gyms in 2017 that I could tell how special he could possibly be. I remember telling people that he would be really, really good once he learned how to play.”

The trio of Thamba, Tshiebwe and Kuminga wouldn’t be at Mountain Mission together long as they went their separate ways.

Kuminga spent his high school playing days at Huntington Prep in West Virginia, Our Savior New American (Centereach, New York) and The Patrick School in Hillside, New Jersey.

“I took a position at Sunrise Christian Academy [in Kansas] the following year and unfortunately most of the Congolese kids left, Jonathan included,” Miller said. “I saw him at an AAU tournament in Dallas the following spring and he had developed nicely.”

Kuminga developed so nicely that he skipped college to turn pro and after a year playing for the G League Ignite, was selected with the seventh overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft.

Kuminga appeared in 70 regular-season games and 16 playoff contests for a stacked Warriors squad coached by Steve Kerr and featuring superstars Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andrew Wiggins. Many prognosticators have predicted eventual stardom in the league for the 19-year-old Kuminga, who stands 6-foot-7.

You can’t tell his story, however, without mentioning that one year at the school in Grundy. Those months that a future NBA champ, NCAA champ and college hoops player of the year were all together under one roof.

“I’m so proud of Jonathan and humbled that we were able to bring him to the US and help him on his way to changing his family tree,” Miller said. “Even though he was only at Mountain Mission that one year, I believe our school and staff made a profound difference in his life from him.”

thayes@bristolnews.com | Twitter:@Hayes_BHCSports | (276) 645-2570

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