He said Anthony Grant is hoping to transform him now that he’s here, but I’m not sure this is how the University of Dayton basketball coach quite envisioned it.
Right in front of me late Thursday morning, Jordy Tshimanga, the 6-foot-11, 275-pound transfer from Nebraska, morphed into Sabrina Claudio, the sultry, half-Cuban, half-Puerto Rican R & B singer.
Tshimanga unplugged his headphones from his iPad, cranked up the volume and the suite overlooking the UD practice court in the Cronin Center soon filled with Claudio’s “Messages From Her.”
Except it was Tshimanga, his big hands swaying in rhythm, who was doing the whispery intro to the song. And then he began to sing:
“Look how you found me
“No one else sees that but you…but you.”
Meet the Dayton Flyers newest big man.
And while he wears a size 18 shoe, pants with a 38-inch inseam and has a 7-foot-2 wingspan, all that is dwarfed by his big personality.
In the course of 40 minutes, he talked about everything from writing poetry to finding out more about the Grace UMC Church on Salem Avenue that has a special service for Congolese refugees to growing up in Montreal.
He had just come from class and was wearing a black T-shirt that bore a message “Hate Will Never Win” in bold white letters across the front. He wore a beaded necklace with an Africa-shaped medallion on it – he called it a “totem,” a reminder of his heritage – and a cross on a long chain. Strapped to his shoulders was his backpack.
He explained the shirt:
“At Nebraska we had a (white) supremacist on campus who was talking crazy. Instead of venting all our anger and trying to fight him, we were like ‘Let’s come up with a bigger message.’ Trying to beat him up, that doesn’t solve anything. Violence against violence never works.”
Back in his office later, Grant spoke about Tshimanga (pronounced shuh-MAHN-gah), who he had just signed to a scholarship earlier this month:
“When you get a chance to meet him and talk to him and get a feel for who he is and his personality; when you know his story, his history – how his dad came from Africa and his mom passed away when he was young; and when you learn about the drive he and his brothers and sisters had to try to be successful and make a new life for themselves, when you hear all that, you realize here is a pretty impressive story.”
Yet, Tshimanga shrugs off the build-up:
“I believe everybody’s got their own story. My story is just a little different.”
A basketball family
Tshimanga said his parents fled the Democratic Republic of Congo when war broke out there in 1996 and they ended up in Montreal. He was born there in November of that year.
In 2012, his mother died. “She was very sweet, very loving and very caring,” his said quietly before breaking into a smile. “That’s where I get my sweet side.”
The athleticism he said comes from his father:
“My dad did a bunch of judo and karate and taekwondo a long time ago in the Congo. I try to fight with him even now and it doesn’t work. He is so strong, he can hold his own with me and my older siblings, no problem.”
He said there were nine children in their extended family: “My brother Yannick (Wak) was a 6-foot-3 point guard at Sac State (California State University-Sacramento.) My brother Link (Kabadyundi) is 7-foot-1 and played at Texas Christian and then Texas Arlington.”
He said his sister Yasmine Bido Kuindila – “Mini Queen” he called her – is a 6-foot-6 center at LSU and another sister, Florence, or “Flo” as he calls her, plays at Grayson Junior College in Dennison, Texas.
His two younger brothers, 6-foot-10 Emmanuel and 6-foot-9 Nathan are playing at Bella Vista College Preparatory School in Scottsdale, Arizona.
The Flyers have offered Emmanuel, a senior this season, a scholarship, as well.
Unlike his younger brothers, Tshimanga said when he was growing up he knew nothing about basketball: “I played football. When I was 13 I was maybe 6-foot-3, but I weighed 330 pounds”.
He said his brother Yannick, who was living in the Boston area, eventually took him under his wing and brought him to the MacDuffie School in Granby, Massachusetts.
It was during his three years there that he slimmed down some, stretched up plenty and developed into a basketball player. It’s also where he really showed that personality Grant talked about.
“He’s the total person,” MacDuffie coach Jacques Rivera told Nebraska reporters when Tshimanga signed with the Huskers. “Jordy’s awesome. He’s the kind of kid you’d let date your daughter. He has great morals, great principles.”
A four-star recruit who had offers from numerous major college programs, including Arizona Baylor, Boston College, LSU, Pitt, Oklahoma State UNLV, Providence, SMU and Minnesota, Tshimanga said he chose Nebraska primarily because of Kenya Hunter, the assistant coach who recruited him and today remains “like family” to him.
EAST LANSING, MI - DECEMBER 3: Jordy Tshimanga #32 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers goes up for a dunk during the game against the Michigan State Spartans at Breslin Center on December 3, 2017 in East Lansing, Michigan. (Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)
In two seasons at Nebraska, Tshimanga played in 62 games, started 27 and averaged 4.5 points and 4.3 rebounds a contest.
He had some impressive games for the Huskers – 15 points and nine rebounds in 23 minutes against Michigan State as a freshman, 11 points and nine rebounds against Iowa as a sophomore – but after starting the first 18 games last season, he became disenchanted.
Last January he asked for his release and missed two Big Ten games, but then returned to the team. He was replaced in the starting lineup late last season, felt a disconnect with head coach Tim Miles and once Hunter left for UConn, he decided to transfer.
He said it was difficult because he liked his teammates and the Nebraska fans. And Miles wished him and his family well when he left.
He said his initial coach at MacDuffie, Jerry McCullough, knew UD assistant Ricardo Greer, which gave Dayton a connection.
And once the Flyers got him here, he said he was sold.
“Being in the college business for two years now, I was able to pinpoint what I wanted,” Tshimanga said. “I came on a visit and this was just it.
“First of all it was a place I could feel comfortable in. I felt comfortable with the coaches. They showed me who they were, which was really a selling point with me. I spent time with the players and that was great and I saw Brown Street. My favorite spot is BIBIBOP (Asian Grill).”
“Everything here just felt great and now, I….love…it!”
Wants to get better
Tshimanga said he is excited to experience Flyers basketball:
“I’ve heard all about the Arena and the crowd and I’ve seen videos. I can’t wait to be there and see for myself what it’s all about.”
This season, though, he’ll be forced to sit out to comply with NCAA transfer rules.
Dayton Flyers hold summer practice at Cronin Center
Photo: David Jablonski - Staff Writer
“It will be kind of hard and I’ll miss it, but then I look at the positives of it,” he said. “I’ll be able to take more classes and possibly graduate early. And I’ll be able to get better basketball-wise. That’s a big part of what I need right now.
“Coach Grant said he wants me to be a complete player. I want to be able to shoot the ball better. At Nebraska I was playing with my back to the basket, but I want to be able to do multiple things out there.”
Sitting out this season means, come game nights, he’ll be on the bench in street clothes.
“I think I’ll want to dress up and wear some fancy stuff those nights,” he said. “Yeah, I want to come in fancy and well dressed. I like being all sweetened up.”
And then he laughed.
That’s the Flyers new big man, a guy who wants his look to match his personality.