By Jordan Sensi 

The Antibes Sharks in the French ProA sound familiar to the NBA scouts since three of the best prospects in France played in this southern city recently: Timothé Luwawu, Isaia Cordinier and Killian Tillie. Luwawu and Cordinier played together with the U18 and the Espoirs teams before leaving for Mega Leks and Evreux respectively while Tillie played for the U18 team before joining INSEP and then committing to Gonzaga.

They all shared the same coach, Christian Corderas, who talked to me last year about Gracin Bakumanya (1997 – 7’ – C). Coach Corderas does not hesitate when he says Bakumanya may be the best prospect he has ever had.

Gracin Bakumanya was born in Kinshasa (DR Congo); he played basketball there for fun but it was not very developed unfortunately. Consequently he left for Spain when he was 15. Once in Spain he joined a little club where he had to play in a regional U20 league because there was no younger team for him. He did not adapt well to this new life in a new country and his Belgian agent sent him to the US to take part in different camps and for tryouts with Montverde Academy and another HS in Texas. However, he did not speak English and he still did not understand “real” basketball at all, therefore he had to go back to Europe after a “no” from these two teams.  Once in Europe, Bakumanya went to Belgium to work out and then he joined Antibes in 2014.

Last season, Bakumanya played in the U18 championship where he was dominating thanks to his size. This season he is playing in the Espoirs league where he is averaging 13.7 points, 10.3 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game. The first thing you notice when you see him play for the first time is his length, he is projected to be a 7’1, and he has long arms. He runs well, he is well coordinated and he has a solid upper body.

Bakumanya’s big problem right now is his weak lower body, his legs are skinny, he has no explosiveness and nearly no leaping ability. Because of that he struggles to change direction and to keep his balance which does not help him to resist at the contacts. Since he never really played basketball at a high level, the big man is still kind of soft on the floor. He struggles to grab contested rebounds with both hands as much as finishing in the paint at the contact. He never dunks the ball for example because of all these weaknesses combined.

We can see how high level basketball is new to him on the defensive end of the floor, Bakumanya is completely lost, he does not know who he is supposed to guard after one pass, does not know the rotations at all and is nearly never in the right help.

The young player has already shown some nice promises and it is only the beginning. Every day he spends one hour for individual workouts with his coach, and has a specific development program to follow.

Gracin Bakumanya has soft touch, he moves well and the plan is to teach him how to shoot from mid-range and even from the 3 points line to move him at the power forward position. If we are very far away from this point, it makes sense even though it is highly unlikely he will become a full-time power forward, but he might end up as a hybrid big man able to play at the 4 during some sequences.

So far, Bakumanya has shown excellent opportunism on offense, he is surprisingly always at the right spot and can score easy baskets, he is a very good pick & roll player, and he is able to finish in the paint with his soft right hand. He can pass, he can dribble straight line and he already is a decent free throw shooter (9/13 so far). He also grabs 10.3 rebounds in 31 minutes in a very physical league with no technic at all.

Of course, Bakumanya has a long way to go before being productive at high level, but he is absolutely not the typical raw big man who started basketball recently.