Two and a half years ago Cyr Malonga was walking down street with his three brothers in his home city of Pointe-Noire, the second largest city in the Republic of Congo, when a local basketball coach approached him and asked the then 6-foot-8 soccer star to come with him to the gym to try a basketball workout.
“I had never played before,” Malonga said. “I was a forward in soccer and I really liked it. In Pointe-Noire that’s the main sport, but once I tried basketball, I fell in love with it right away.”
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That love produced a work ethic that fast tracked his development from a raw athlete with good size to one of the most promising prospects in the 2023 class.
Malonga, who now stands 6-11, came to the U.S. and enrolled at Evangel Christian School (Louisville, Ky.) in January to continue to develop and maximize exposure; eight months in he’s amassed an impressive list of college suitors.
Kentucky, Illinois, Mississippi State, Eastern Michigan, Florida State, Georgia, Texas, Michigan, LSU, Arizona State and Nevada have all either offered or expressed interest in Malonga.
“The competition is so much better here,” Malonga said. “Our conditions where I’m from aren’t too good. We play outside on dirt courts a lot. I learned the basics over there, and I feel like having to learn in those conditions makes me work harder now. My focus is to help a team get to a Final Four.”
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Malonga has pulled two-a-days all summer, improving on every aspect of his game from his timing on blocks to his hands to his feel on the offensive end.
“He has phenomenal potential,” said Evangel Christian School athletic director Brandon Bender, who played basketball overseas. “When you’re 16 years old, 6-11 and weigh 210 pounds with his instincts and skills I think one day he will be a top 10 pick. He’s on that track.”
This summer, while running with the Louisville Defenders, Malonga averaged 17.5 points, nine rebounds and three blocks a game.
His favorite on-court pastime?
“I love to dunk on people,” said Malonga, who added that he will likely reclassify to 2022 next summer. “Before, when I started playing, I was scared to do it, but I’ve done it a few times, and I love it.”
Malonga is the latest Congolese prospect to turn heads on the hardwood; Jonathan Kuminga was the No. 1 player in the 2021 class before reclassifying to 2020 and opting for the G League over college.
“I want to be the best big man in the U.S.,” Malonga said. “I’m excited about the season. I’m playing for myself, but I have to produce so the next players from where I’m from can have an opportunity. I’m always ready for the challenge.”