Harouna Mutombo has gotten it his entire life—questions about his uncle Dikembe, if he wagged his finger, and why he was only 6-4, not 7-2. After four years as a starter at Western Carolina, he has proven to be next to carry the Mutombo Legacy.
“Dikembe was pretty much like a father figure to me in that he raised me. He’s been a great mentor throughout my whole college process. He was at my last game of my career supporting me,” explains the younger Mutombo.” Growing up with him, I learned the game so it’s in my blood. I can’t thank him enough and he’s always been a phone call or text away.”
Living with his uncle throughout his playing career, Harouna experienced the NBA lifestyle when he was in elementary school. He went from Atlanta to Philly and then to Toronto. In fact, the younger Mutombo even served as a ball boy for the Hawks during his stay in ATL. Harouna’s game began to take off in T-Dot, where he teamed with a star-studded cast of players on his HS squad that included current Spur Cory Joseph, Oregon star Devoe Joseph, and a handful of other DI players. From there, he took his talents to mid-major Western Carolina.
Over 1,000 miles away from home, Mutomobo initially thrived as a freshman. He averaged 13.4 points per game and was named SoCon Freshman of the Year. It seemed as if everything was falling into place for Harouna to have the opportunity to follow the path he envisioned for the League. Then came two up-and-down seasons with a lessened role and spurts of frustration that only he can explain.
“I’ve always heard that it’s not how you start, but how you finish. I came in and started off really well. I was Freshman of the Year, and I think that it was a bit overwelming, coming from Canada and everything. My sophomore and junior years, I became more of a role player and my numbers dropped,” he says. “My senior year, my coach told me that the team was going to far as I was going to take them, so I took on the role and made that jump.”
The jump that Mutombo was referring to was a jump in his scoring average of 4 points per game. He also hit a career high of 6 boards per contest. Mutombo’s play took an even bigger jump once the Southern Conference Tourney rolled around, elevating his scoring average to nearly 19 a night and taking Western Carolina to the conference finals. Though they came up 2 points short in double OT, he made his mark. With the his collegiate career over and his future profession now in mind, Harouna immediately went to work.
We caught up with him at the legendary McDougall-McClendon gymnasium on the campus of North Carolina Central. NC Central assistant coach Wes Pifer volunteered his services to get Mutombo’s game right for the next level, putting him through a rigorous workout that ran about an hour and a half late on a Sunday afternoon. Openly admitting that he’s looking to improve his handle, Mutombo had Pifer put him through drills that will help him score on the next level.
Aside from the cone work and two-ball dribbling drills that they went through, Pifer put on the MMA style gloves and began beating on Mutombo throughout the workout to simulate the physical play that he was going to encounter next season, whether it be in the states or abroad. After taking a bump or two, the WCU guard really showed off an impressive mid-range game. The guy was automatic after putting the ball on the deck a time or two, showing nice elevation and a consistent release from anywhere within the three-point arc.
With no NBA line on NC Central’s floor, it was tough to gauge how well Harouna could shoot the ball from the pro line. His jumper didn’t look bad, but he had mixed results when shooting from the land of three. Cleaning up both his jumper and handle could greatly bolster his game as a slasher, given his natural scoring ability.
Standing a little over a month away from the Draft, Mutombo knows that he’s going to have to fight his way into NBA workouts. He acknowledged the fact that he will likely have to fight his way through summer league and the D-League to get a chance to make an NBA roster. He also understands that he’s on the outside looking in at this point and is willing to take whatever steps he has to in order to join the long list of Canadian players who have achieved significant accolades both at the collegiate and professional levels.
“You’ve obviously got Tristan [Thompson] and Cory who went to the NBA. You’ve got guys like myself, Kris Joseph, Alex Jacobsen at NC State, Brady [Heslip] over at Baylor, Devoe Joseph at Oregon… and a lot more guys,” boasts Mutombo. “This is just a really good year for Canadian basketball. I think that Tristan and Cory started that off a little bit last year.”
Combining everything that he’s learned from both playing with the best that Canada has to offer and living with one of the best shot blockers of NBA history, it’s immediately event upon talking to Mutombo that you’re dealing with a bright kid with a high IQ. He learned his on-court skills from his coaches, while Deke stressed “taking care of your body, rest, eating right, and watching film.” While he learned an immense amount from his uncle, he still didn’t know the one thing that all of us have been dying to know for years—Dikembe’s real age.
“Oh man, you put me on the spot. I don’t even know,” responds a shocked Harouna when probed about Dikembe’s age. “I think he’ll be about 45 or 46, but don’t quote me on that.”