For those that don’t actively participate in playing for or helping run a youth basketball team, it can be easy to forget what these players are hoping to achieve. While watching highly talented players duke it out on the hardwood can indeed be a spectacle, there’s a reason we find ourselves so enthralled with such high competition. These kids aren’t just hoping to win; they’re chasing a dream. They’re chasing the dream. Close your eyes, can you picture it? A locker room with a space just for you, a jersey with your name on it and thousands of screaming fans waiting for you to take the floor. They live and die with every shot you take; every pass you make; every ball that grazes off your finger tips. The world slows down with the cameras flashing as you, the ambitious athlete, take flight through the air. Your wings spread as your name is chanted and you soar to basketball greatness.
Everyone’s dream may not be the same, though. Many aspiring athletes hope to compete at the professional level with the ever-appealing prospect of labeling oneself the greatest, or a champion at the very least. I know I’m not the only one that’s made the game-winning shot of the NBA finals time and time again in my driveway. For others, perhaps it’s about playing well enough throughout high school to obtain a scholarship whilst finishing their careers at the collegiate level. Some athletes, on the other hand, have to tweak their dreams along the way. One can’t predict the setbacks they’ll face or the trials and tribulations they’ll encounter, but those moments can truly show one’s determination.
All of this and more can be said about underrated guards David Kapinga and Shandon Mootoosamy. Both Kapinga and Mootoosamy have lived in Canada. Both Kapinga and Mootoosamy found themselves on EYBL teams last year, yet are both currently in a state of limbo as to where their collegiate basketball careers will continue. Both Kapinga and Mootoosamy have experienced injuries over the last couple of years, but both of them can easily contribute to a Division I program when healthy.
I had an opportunity to catch up with both of them and got a look inside the mind of an aspiring athlete on the road back to chasing the dream.
Kapinga, a native of the Congo, resided in Alberta, Canada before deciding to make the move to the States and truly commit to playing basketball: “I’ve wanted to play Division I ball ever since I stayed with basketball, that’s why I did my ACT and came to the USA. But my exposure to D1 scouts was very limited because of my lack of contacts.”
We could all use a little exposure, whether it’s to the sun or being given an opportunity to prove ourselves. Exposure has a whole different meaning for guys like Kapinga and Mootoosamy, though; it’s a chance at a completely different life. As Kapinga has been working to put himself in a bigger spotlight, he’s had to do so while taking care of an injury he experienced a couple of years ago.
“I had a sprained groin, it happened two years ago.” Kapinga said. “The conditions of where we were playing in St. Louis did not really help with the injury because we ran on concrete, but since I’ve been here I’ve been taking care of it by going to the chiropractor about every two days for therapy. I [also] take very good care of my ankles and my injury prevention sessions help with my knees.”
The injury didn’t prove to be too serious, however, as Kapinga was given the chance to play for the Kentucky Travelers last season. As Kapinga states: “They came to my school to watch me practice and I thought it was a great opportunity because EYBL is where the best play. Competition has always been my drive. That’s how I ended up choosing to play for the Travelers.” Kapinga found himself playing on a squad consisting of several talented guards, though, as the minutes never really amounted to what he desired. But that didn’t stop him from taking in the experience for what it was.
“I think I didn’t have poise.” he said. “I did not know when to attack and when to slow the game down - so basically how to control the tempo. I learned from [my coaches] how to be confident in my abilities, even when playing against the best players in the world. After that summer my skills and work ethic improved because I knew what I needed to do to compete against the best. I also learned from them little tricks such as butt to the sidelines on an inbound - just things to make me a more efficient point guard. It was a game-changing summer for me.”
While talk is cheap, Kapinga proved how beneficial the summer really was when he dropped 40 points and six assists on national powerhouse La Lumiere (Ind.) while playing for St. Louis Christian in February. That’s a team with potentially seven-plus D1 players that Kapinga went off on. Kapinga not only utilized his time with the Travelers to learn from his coaches, but he also evolved his game from what he saw from his fellow teammates.
“By playing with them I saw the pieces missing from my game. It helped me with confidence and with IQ improvement.”
Kapinga garnered some attention from some Division I schools in Kentucky, but nothing ever cemented for him. So what’s next for Kapinga? The 5-foot-11, 178-pound guard certainly has a few options for how he can go about the next stages in his ever-developing basketball game, whether that sees him starting off at a D1 school or not.
“I have a plan B, which is to stay and play college ball in Canada. I want a chance to show my skills, improve, make contacts and build a great range that will help me play professional basketball. I think any routes necessary would be nice for me to achieve my goal, however, I also want to think that stability is important. I don’t want to be in the situation where transferring isn’t guaranteed.”
Described as an extremely athletic guard with explosive abilities, a knee injury last year halted Mootoosamy’s run to becoming a highly-touted D1 prospect.
“I got injured back in February of last year,” he explained. “I had originally torn my meniscus, but I continued to play. Then in March, going up for a layup in a game my knee completely gave out and I tore my ACL. The process has been hard. I had to wait a few months for surgery because of how booked it was and on top of it all I basically had to do rehab myself, which made things a lot more difficult. I’ve managed okay up until this point, it’s just a matter of getting into basketball shape now and someone willing to give me a chance.”
While injuries happen nearly every day, recoveries are also made and fresh starts can be had. Did anyone think Shaun Livingston would experience such a resurgence in his career after one of the grizzliest injuries ever in professional sports? For those of you that don’t know what I’m talking about, tread very carefully if you plan on looking for the highlight - it’s seriously gnarly.
Mootoosamy gained the opportunity to play with CIA Bounce last year alongside close friend and one of Canada’s finest, Montaque Gill-Caesar. Friends since the fourth grade, Mootoosamy and Gill-Caesar get together in the gym whenever the opportunity presents itself and both said they constantly help each other improve. Playing with a close pal wasn’t the only benefit Mootoosamy got from playing with CIA Bounce, though.
“Playing for Bounce was a great experience,” he said. “Coach Tony is a great man who really looks out for his own kids - not a lot of coaches do that. Overall competition was the best, way better than back home. It’s all guys chasing the same dream and want it just as bad, which makes each game that much more fun.”
At 6-foot even, 170-pounds, Mootoosamy doesn’t only possess incredible athletic ability, but also a great knowledge of the game. Mootoosamy describes himself as a guy who likes to get out and play defense and disrupt the offense; a very good pick-and-roll point guard that can create a lot of good opportunities for teammates. As he states: “I know how to run a team and get people involved and excited to play.” Gill-Caesar couldn’t agree more.
“As a player, he’s very skilled and has a high basketball IQ,” Gill-Caesar said. “He knows the game really well. He’s a pass-first type of point guard, but is able to score as well. Personally, to me, he’s one of those freaks-of-nature type of guys. I say that because he’s strong as a bull, but is also extremely fast and can jump out of the gym.”
Mootoosamy has proven his jumping ability by throwing down more than his fair share of dunks at Athlete Institute in Canada. And he’s getting closer to getting back to that form every day. Mootoosamy anticipates he’ll be back to full form in the next two-to-four months as he looks to begin the next stages of what could be a promising career.
“My knee is basically healthy, it’s just a matter of getting back into the groove and the feel for the game.”
Mootoosamy now looks to get back on track in the next year with the possibility of playing his first year somewhere in Toronto a likely possibility. But after that? Mootoosamy knows exactly what he’s looking for when he makes his move to the next level
“At college I’m looking for a good relationship with my teammates, a good bond with my coach, a friendly environment and a place where they will help me with my grades as well.”
It’s also tough to argue that he isn’t going into this with the best attitude possible: “In 2015 I will be fully healthy banging with the best players in the country, no doubt.”
With such a wealth of talent throughout North America, it’s not always easy to stand out or receive the recognition one deserves for their efforts on and off the hardwood, especially when the depth of history isn’t on your side. Making it to the D1 level to play basketball is already hard enough, and it doesn’t get any easier when one is from another country. Kapinga and Mootoosamy are two prospects from Canada that have no business being overlooked, regardless of past injuries.
Sadly, not everyone is fortunate enough to recall their dreams in the morning and not everyone is able to fall back into that pleasant slumber that allows them to dream the dream. But it’s clear the drive and determination is there with Kapinga and Mootoosamy; they just need the chance to shine.