REBELS BASKETBALL:

Far from family, Massamba transitions to UNLV squad

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Rob Miech

New UNLV center Brice Massamba, who played at Findlay College Prep last season and has logged time for the Swedish national basketball team, relaxes on the Thomas & Mack Center court after Thursday’s practice.

UNLV Basketball

Alex and Rob Miech discuss who has stood out after one week of UNLV basketball practice

Tarkanian Interview

UNLV legend Jerry Tarkanian sits down with Alex to discuss his UNLV teams of old and this year's squad.

The Rebel Room

Another look at FirstLook

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Ryan Greene, Rob Miech and Alex Adeyanju look back on the Rebels' FirstLook 2008 from last Friday night, give some early season practice reports from out at Thomas & Mack and also give a quick glimpse at the UNLV football squad's realistic chances heading up to Provo this weekend.

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Beas Hamga, left, and Brice Massamba battle for a rebound during a scrimmage at the UNLV basketball team's first practice at the Thomas & Mack Center on Friday.

New UNLV center Brice “Truck” Massamba always had to be careful at home in Sweden when he visited the bathroom. Darly Massamba knew how the dark frightened his younger brother.

So Darly always hid in a corner or cranny. When Brice flicked on the restroom light, Darly would unleash a howl from some nook.

“One time he put me in the oven,” said Massamba, smiling. “I was 4 or 5. He was just playing. He’s crazy like that sometimes. He’s got all the jokes.”

Brice Massamba owes much of his gregariousness and outgoing nature – and deep laugh, infectious smile and warm personality – to Darly.

His mother, Madeleine Lukolama, a nurse in Sodertalje, Sweden, also is funny. But Darly has the timing and playfulness and bottomless barrel of jokes.

“I didn’t know his personality was like this,” said Rebels assistant coach Lew Hill, who tutors the UNLV big men, of Brice Massamba. “He’s a bubbly kid. He enjoys coming to practice and working hard every day.

“He has that life to him all the time. I love kids like that. You get all shapes and sizes, different personalities. How can you not gravitate to that personality?”

When Massamba, who went to Findlay College Prep, attended UNLV games over the past two seasons, it wasn’t difficult to find him.

Carrying 280 pounds on his 6-foot-10 frame made him stand out in the Thomas & Mack Center. He punctuated his presence, though, with thin white Thunder Sticks that he’d slam together.

“I just loved it,” Massamba said. “I’d never seen a college basketball game until I came here. I watched Wink Adams and Kevin Kruger. I was excited. When I saw my first UNLV game, I fell in love.”

Findlay coach Mike Peck confirmed that Massamba likes to enjoy life, that he loves hanging out, and joking and laughing, with teammates and friends.

“But at the same time, he’s had enough people like Darly around who show him the serious side of things,” Peck said. “He knows there’s a time to be serious. He’s well-groomed.”

Brice Massamba, like his three older brothers, was born in Congo. The family moved to Sweden when he was 1. His mother told Brice the move was hastened by politics.

“That’s all I heard,” he said. “It was dangerous. I think it was under war, and she probably knew somebody in Sweden.”

Brice Massamba said he thinks his father was a bus driver, but he does not have a relationship with him.

The family returned to Congo, formerly called Zaire, in 2000. The Massambas went to Kinshasa, where Muhammad Ali beat George Foreman in the famous “Rumble in the Jungle” in October 1974.

Brice expected to visit the jungle.

“But it was a city,” he said. “It was better than I thought it would be. I thought it would be poor, but relatives weren’t that poor.”

A grandmother was doing well running a water-bottling company.

Brice watched a local soccer team play a game in Stade du 20 Mai, the stadium in which Ali knocked out Foreman.

“I saw posters of that fight still at the football arena,” Massamba said. “I loved it over there. I was happy to see relatives. Kinshasa played another city in football. We won, of course.”

Of course, he was destined to play basketball. His 28-year-old brother Dadhy is an aerospace engineer, but the rest of Brice’s siblings make their livings by playing basketball.

Darly, 27, went to Armstrong Atlantic State University in Georgia and now plays for 08 Stockholm in the BasketLigan, the top Swedish league.

Thomas, 23, scored 32 points the other night for the Sodertalje Kings in the same league. Darly is 6-5 and weighs 215. Thomas is 6-feet and 185.

Yes, Brice Massamba likes to cook. Chinese or teriyaki chicken, rice and vegetables are his specialties, which he occasionally cooked for Findlay teammates in the house he shared with them.

That’s not the end of the basketball-playing Massambas, either. Tanya, Brice’s 17-year-old sister, plays in the women’s BasketLigan for the Norrkoping Dolphins.

“He says she can play,” said Hill.

Brice Massamba owes a lot to Darly.

“He always said I have to believe in myself,” Brice said. “I didn’t believe in myself when I was younger. I played for fun. He made me go to practice with him.

“As I got older I started getting more involved, loving it more. He always pushed me to do better things. After that, I played on the national team. Thanks to him, I’m over here now.”

A scout discovered Massamba at an Albert Schweitzer tournament in Mannheim, Germany, and Peck watched him play in an adidas tournament in Georgia.

The rest is history.

“I give a lot of our international guys, who are in similar situations, a lot of credit. It’s not like they’re going across the street,” Peck said.

“They’re thousands of miles away from family, friends, everything they know, to better their futures. I mean, my hat’s off to them."

Massamba calls his mother in Sweden before he walks to an 8 a.m. class and when he leaves his last one at 12:45 p.m.

“Every day, she asks me how my grades are, how practice is going and how coach (Lon Kruger) is treating me,” Massamba said. “I tell her everything is good. She’s proud of me.

“And my brothers keep pushing me.”

Massamba has shed about 18 pounds, thanks to the rigors of practice, strength and conditioning coach Jason Kabo’s strict weight-training regimen and a special diet.

Baked chicken. Vegetables. Salad.

He has about five pounds to go to reach the desired 257 that Kabo wants him at for this season.

Massamba, who is battling 7-footer Beas Hamga for reserve minutes behind likely starting center Darris Santee, has been powerful in practice lately.

He has a nifty touch around the basket and a keen eye for the game, which impresses Hill. He’s still playful, too.

Thursday, as a ball bounced out of bounds, Massamba tangled with Joe Darger. Darger grabbed Massamba as they sped toward the ball. Massamba grabbed Darger.

They laughed as they fell out of bounds.

“If I wasn’t going to get it,” said Massamba, to nobody in particular, “he wasn’t going to get it.”

Asked what he wants UNLV fans to know about him, Massamba didn’t hesitate.

“Well, I’m a funny person,” he said. “They can always come up to me and ask me questions if they want to know something. I always want to meet new people.”

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  1. There's no doubt in my mind that Brice will grow to be a fan favorite. He's a good kid and always lightens up practices.

    Also, When was the last time you saw a big man leave his feet to dive after a ball like he did in Wednesdays practice? He's going to be great for the program and the fans.

  2. he is cool kid. Brice is the kind of player I would want to coach. He will be a hard worker and a good player for us down the road.

  3. You both hit the nail on the head. I saw that Mee. He is full of life, which totally shows on the practice court. He shows such strong flashes, too, how about maybe two years down the line? Not to get too far ahead of ourselves but, man, what a tremendous upside.
    What a joy to coach, ryphi. Mike Peck couldn't say enough about his two years with Brice at Findlay.
    Have fun guys...