No. 1 junior Jonathan Kuminga talks chasing championships, visiting schools and honoring Kobe | Zagsblog
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Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
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Wednesday / April 1.
  • No. 1 junior Jonathan Kuminga talks chasing championships, visiting schools and honoring Kobe

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    By ADAM ZAGORIA

    HILLSIDE, N.J. — The future is wide open for Jonathan Kuminga.

    Blessed with an almost unlimited upside on the basketball court, the 6-foot-8 forward from The Patrick School is a projected NBA lottery pick in the 2021 Draft, according to ESPN.com. Yet it remains a big mystery where he will spend next season.

    Kuminga, 17, is currently ranked the No. 1 prospect in the Class of 2021 per 247Sports.com and ESPN.com, and he will have options for next year. He could play on the Nike EYBL circuit this summer with the NY Rens, reclassify at the end of summer and still end up on a college campus like Kentucky or Duke for a year. He could do a prep year next season a la Thon Maker and then head straight to the NBA from there. He could opt to sit out from competition and train somewhere for a year. Or he could conceivably spend a year playing professionally overseas before the NBA Draft.

    “I don’t even know, I have no idea,” Kuminga, a native of the Democratic Republic of Congo who has his own Wikipedia page, said after a three-hour practice with the Celtics on Monday afternoon in the school’s cozy gym. “All I say is just my focus [is] here, finish out my school year.”

    PLAYOFF TIME IN NEW JERSEY

    For now, Kuminga is focused on winning championships with his teammates across the next few weeks.

    The Celtics (17-6), ranked No. 2 in New Jersey by NJ.com, play rival Linden in the semifinals of the Union County Tournament on Wednesday evening in the second game of a doubleheader at Kean University. No. 3-ranked Roselle Catholic meets No. 4 Elizabeth in the first game at 6 p.m. The championship game is set for Saturday evening at Kean.

    The Patrick School and Roselle Catholic are expected to meet in the final for a third time this season after the Celtics won both previous matchups against a team that features four Division 1 seniors in Richie Greaves (Binghamton), Niels Lane (Florida), C.J. Wilcher (Xavier) and Cliff Omoruyi (uncommitted) but has battled its own injuries.

    “I mean, people be thinking it’s a rival, we don’t see it as a rival,” Kuminga said of Roselle Catholic. “We see it just as go out there compete, play hard. Anytime we go out there and compete and play hard, we just gonna win. But if we go out there as lazy, we not gonna win. It’s not really a rival to us, nobody’s a rival. We do pretty much everything for that moment so we’re ready to compete against anybody.”

    Chris Chavannes, the Patrick School principal and coach, knows that with Kuminga leading a cast that also includes Adama Sanogo, Noah Farrakhan, Zarique Nutter, Bretner Mutombo, Samson Johnson, Chris Jiao and others, he has a strong chance to win the county, state and Tournament of Champions crowns.

    “I get a little worried about them because I don’t know if they understand New Jersey basketball, what all that stuff is, but I know the one game they understand is when we play RC but we have to get there,” he said. “The way we play at times, it makes me nervous, so we’re taking it one game at a time. I think they’re pretty locked in right now.”

    HONORING KOBE

    Beginning next week, Kuminga and the Celtics open play in the New Jersey Non-Public B state tournament, a bracket traditionally filled with aura and mystique and one that has been dominated over the years by St. Anthony’s, St. Patrick/The Patrick School and, more recently, Roselle Catholic.

    Whoever emerges from that bracket is usually considered the favorite to win the prestigious TOC title, although this year Camden, a public school featuring Kentucky-bound forward Lance Ware and uber-talented sophomore D.J. Wagner, figure to contend for the crown as well.

    In the history of the TOC dating to 1989, Bob Hurley and St. Anthony’s won 13 titles, St. Pat’s and The Patrick School under both Kevin Boyle and Chavannes have won six and RC under Dave Boff has won three.

    Kuminga transferred to The Patrick School from Our Savior New American in Centerreach, N.Y., so this will be his first taste of the rugged postseason in New Jersey. And he cannot wait.

    “Yeah, it’s super-exciting,” he said. “I never played this type of competition like playoff time. You know, when I went to school last year we didn’t have this so me being here it’s really exciting.

    “I’m just looking forward to play hard, to show all I can do and just winning.”

    Kuminga missed two games at the start of the season after transferring but a judge granted an injunction allowing him to play in the team’s third game against Roselle Catholic on Dec. 23 in the Kyrie Invitational at Barclays Center. He went for 20 points in the win in a game broadcast regionally on the YES Network.

    Still, Sanogo and Mutombo, who also transferred, missed that game and sat out until Jan. 19 when they made their debut at the Hoophall Classic.

    Two days before the game at Barclays Center, Kuminga and the Celtics attended a Nets game courtesy of Patrick School alum Kyrie Irving and met Kobe Bryant, who posed for a team picture with them.

    After the tragic death of Kobe and Gigi Bryant, with seven others, in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26, Kuminga joined many others in honoring Kobe.

    The left sneaker he wore at practice on Monday had “#8” and “#24” written on them, while the right had “Mamba Mentality” and “RIP Kobe” inscribed.

    “Yeah, I got a lot of motivation through that,” he said. “It’s go time for me now. It’s the time I gotta prove and show out and prove for Kobe, so that’s why I wrote that on my shoes. It’s go time right now.”

    Kuminga injured his left ankle on Jan. 3 in a nationally-televised game against Bronny James and Sierra Canyon (CA) in Minnesota. He did not return until Feb. 5 in a win at New Brunswick, when he first honored Kobe on the court.

    He still wears an ankle brace to protect himself.

    “I would say it’s 100 [percent],” he said. “I’m just wearing the ankle brace because I gotta stay safe all the time. I gotta protect my body.”

    Since Kuminga’s return, the team has been whole and has looked very strong despite a Feb. 13 loss at Long Island Lutheran in which Kuminga went for 24 points but was outdueled by Ohio State-bound forward Zed Key , who had 37 points and 16 rebounds, and Illinois-bound point guard Andre Curbelo.

    During that stretch, they also won two games at the Metro Classic, including a 69-45 dismantling of Huntington (W.V.) Prep.

    Now, it’s championships or bust for Kuminga and his teammates. They put in a hard three-hour practice on Monday focused primarily on defense.

    “We just trying to get better especially on defense,” he said, “because you know we’re in the playoffs now so we’re going to play against a lot of great teams so we just gotta get better every day. If you saw our practice, we don’t work on offense no more, we work on defense because it’s playoff time.”

    And at the Patrick School, a school that produced Kyrie Irving, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Al Harrington, among others, that means one thing: winning championships.

    It’s TOC or bust now.

    “Yeah, pretty much, yeah,” Kuminga said. “Everybody ready for that. We want to win that for our coach. We want to bring another one home.”

    Asked if it would be a failure if they didn’t win it, Kuminga said, “Yeah, something like that, but we gotta win it. We gotta win it.”

    COLLEGE VISITS PUT ON HOLD

    As for the whole college recruiting process, that has been put on the back burner during playoff time.

    Kuminga recently attended a Seton Hall game with Sanogo and some other teammates but in terms of official visits to schools, those will likely have to wait until after the postseason ends. Should the Celtics reach the TOC final, that would take them until March. 22.

    “Not anytime soon, not anytime soon,” he said of college visits.

    In the fall, Kuminga issued a list of 10 schools he’s considering: Kentucky, Duke, Washington, Florida State, Memphis, Texas Tech, Michigan, Georgia, Maryland, and Auburn.

    As for any upcoming visits to those schools, he said Monday, “Nah, I’m not thinking about it. I gotta finish my season first. I gotta focus on winning championships, working on my body, my skills, pretty much everything, and after that I promise you I’m going to start looking forward to see some schools but for right now I’m focused on my school.”

    Before Kuminga was injured, both Kentucky coach John Calipari and Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski watched him during the season. And though Duke and Kentucky may remain the perceived favorites because of their history producing one-and-done players, Kuminga says he wants to visit all 10 schools on his list.

    “Yeah, I want to visit all of them,” he said. “If I can, I would love to visit all of them. After our season, I would like to.”

    His teammate Sanogo is also planning to visit Seton Hall, UConn and Nebraska, and other top prospects have taken visits, but Kuminga is going by his own timetable.

    The future, after all, is wide open.

    “I’m not a follower, you know?” he said. “I do what’s come on my own…so I’m not looking to do that. I’m just happy for them.”

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    Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle. A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.