SPORTS: Former Peninsula College standout Mbunga turns pro

PORT ANGELES — Divaldo Mbunga will have to learn yet another language.

The former Peninsula College men’s basketball standout, and native of Angola, is headed for Turkey after signing a one-year contract with Aliaga Petkim of the Turkish Basketball League (TBL) last month.

That means Mbunga, who recently graduated from Montana State, will have to add Turkish to his repertoire.

It shouldn’t be too much of a problem for the foreign language major. He already knows Portuguese, Spanish and English.

“You always want to keep playing basketball, so I’m just excited to play in another country,” Mbunga said during a telephone interview.

“Basketball has taken me all over the world. I’m blessed to be able to do this.”

Mbunga is set to join the team, which plays in the third largest city in Turkey (Izmir), as soon as he can acquire a work visa.

Working out in PA

Between now and then, however, he’s honing his game where it all started: inside the Pirates’ gymnasium in Port Angeles.

“Every time I have a chance I come back,” Mbunga said.

“I’m pretty close with the [John and Suzanne] Hayden family. I have a lot of friends here. [Peninsula College] coach [Peter] Stewart is here in town, so I feel at home here.”

Mbunga has had several homes the last four years.

He first arrived on the North Olympic Peninsula by way of Luanda, Angola, in the fall of 2005 with little knowledge of American culture, language or basketball.

Two years later, he left Port Angeles with an associate’s degree from Peninsula College as well as the school record in blocks for a career (80) and single season (43).

The 23-year-old transferred to Montana State afterward, averaging 11.2 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in 62 games during the past two seasons.

DAs a senior, Mbunga led the Big Sky in rebounding (7.2 rpg) and blocked shots (1.8 bpg) as a second-team all-conference player.

He also brought the Bobcats (14-17) to within one win of their first NCAA tournament appearance in 13 years, losing a 79-77 heartbreaker to Portland State in the Big Sky championship game.

“That was tough, but we gave our all,” Mbunga said of the two-point loss. “They were just a little bit better that night.

“[Playing in America] was a great experience, the best experience of my life. Playing here prepared me to be a pro.”

Mbunga drew the attention of several European scouts during an organized camp in Las Vegas in July.

His agent received offers from Poland as well as second-tier Spanish and French leagues.

The call from Aliaga came out of nowhere, but Mbunga was more than happy to take it.

“My agent told me it’s a great league,” Mbunga said of the TBL, which was once home to NBA stars Mehmet Okur, Hedo Turkoglu and Anthony Mason among others.

“They have guys on some teams that make over $1 million a year, so I’m assuming I’m going to see some of the best players in Europe. It’s going to be pretty challenging.”

Aliaga appears to be on the rise as well.

The club qualified for the TBL for the first time in its history two years ago, then did well enough last year (10-20, 14th place) to stay on for another season.

“He’s going to have every opportunity to play in the best league in Europe,” said Peninsula College coach Peter Stewart, who himself played professionally in Australia.

“He’s got a nice little package to start with, and he deserves every minute of it . . . or in his case, every penny.”

Aliaga will pay for all housing and transportation costs Mbunga incurs during his time in Izmir.

As for how much he’s going to make, Mbunga said, “It’s pretty good money for a guy like me.

“I have no complaints,” he said. “All I have to do is go over there and play and work. You have to produce in order to get paid, so that’s what I’m going to try to do.”

Asked how he thought Mbunga would do at that level, Stewart didn’t hesitate: “Very well.”

“Number one, he’s intelligent. Number two, he works his butt off. And number three, he’s very talented,” he said.

________

Sports Reporter Matt Schubert can be reached at 360-417-3526 or at [email protected]

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