Thierry Kita Matungulu main picture

Kita: A selfless servant of the African basketball community

“DOC brought in the leader of a basketball organization from South Africa, who told us that, in his community, people constantly reached out to anyone who was in need.”

This is an extract from former NBA legendary sharpshooter Ray Allen’s biography From The Outside: My Journey through Life and the Game I Love. The shooting guard was reflecting on one of the catalysts for their title-winning season at the Boston Celtics in the 07-08 season.

The leader and two-time NBA champion Allen was referring to in his autobiography was Thierry Kita Matungulu, a respected coach in the South African basketball scene. Commonly known as Kita, he was the co-founding director of Hoops 4 Hope, and had spent time working in the United States. 

Kita was also part of the inner sanctum of the Doc Rivers-coached Celtics, where he introduced a concept that helped hoist a 17th NBA championship banner in the team’s rafters at TD Garden.  

From Lubumbashi to starring in the PBL

Originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kita, had travelled to South Africa in the 90s with the raw skill of basketball in tow. At first, Kita saw the country as a stop gap to his ambition of studying in the United States. Fortuitously, his stay in South Africa extended and as his game refined. He’d go on to have professional career in the defunct Professional Basketball League (PBL). 

When he hung up his sneakers, he became a selfless servant of basketball and contributed to its growth in Mzansi. And throughout his involvement in basketball, he has not put a ceiling on how far he can go.

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Thierry Kita Matungulu has invested most of his life in basketball. Pictures: The BTO

Speaking to the Big Tip Off during the Royal Bafokeng JR NBA finals in Rustenburg, South Africa, Kita gave a light chuckle when asked about himself, a sign of his easygoing nature.

“I got into basketball at a late stage in Lubumbashi. There were signs of me becoming a young prospect in Congo. When I came to South Africa, I started flourishing,” said Kita, who joined the All Stars when he first arrived in South Africa. “Initially, when I came here (South Africa), I was transiting. I was preparing to go and study in the United States. Unfortunately, the visa process did not work out and I stayed.”

While the door to attend school in the United States closed, the opportunity to play in the new South African league opened for Kita. While the notion was that South African basketball was picking up only during the PBL era, he dispelled that.

“Basketball (in South Africa) had picked up. The league had enough competitive South Africans, including NBA players and European players. We had Craig Gilchrist, a great South African player, Sam Vincent and Lewis Lloyd, who were NBA players. So, it was a remarkable time,” said the former Egoli Magic player. “It (the PBL) did not need to pick up. It was already at the highest level.”

Becoming coach Kita

The former power forward’s next transition was coaching. During Kita’s time as Cape Peninsula University of Technology’s men’s first team coach, from the early 2000s, the program was a force in the Western Cape. 

He also had a stint as the national team coach of the South African men’s university team and achieved one of the country’s best results at that level, at the World University Games in Daegu, South Korea.

“Those were terrific times. I was able to mould young players, who were in their teens at the time. The likes of Vincent Ntunja and Junior Ongenda grew right before my eyes. I am proud of what they have become and done with their lives,” said Kita, a former senior men’s national team coach. 

“I also coached South African teams in four world student games. One of the best results we had was a second-round appearance in 2003. In that team, we had the likes of Neo Mothiba, Quintin Denyssen, Vince Ntunja and Mthoko Madonda. It was a great team. I don’t think any team has surpassed its achievements.”

 

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Kita brings Ubuntu to the Boston Celtics

The United States finally called for Kita. In the US, he spent his time coaching in elite youth camps. His timing of transitioning overseas could not have been more impeccable. 

During a fundraising event at the youth camps, the pathway to contributing to the Boston Celtics’ successful 07-08 season was in the works.

“After my experience in South Africa, I took a coaching role with Boston Celtics. I was there for ten years working as a guest coach and helped to conduct camps. I used to work at Five-Star and the Eastern Invitational Camps. These were the best camps in the US,” said Kita. 

“From there, I was fortunate enough to sit at the same table as Doc Rivers and Larry Brown during a fundraiser for an organization I co-founded, Hoops 4 Hope. It was also a chance for me to engage with them about working with their teams.”

Kita had built a good rapport with Rivers and this created a pathway for him to integrate into the Celtics’ set-up. There, he introduced the African concept of Ubuntu: ‘I am because we are’, which proved to be a masterstroke.

“I got along well with Doc Rivers. Using this as a basis, I could present the team with the concept of Ubuntu, the idea of togetherness, which they later adopted and won the championship,” said Kita.

“To this day, the word Ubuntu is engraved on the Celtics championship rings.”

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Thierry Kita Matungulu played an impactful role in the 07-08 title success of the Celtics. Picture: Supplied

The NBA Africa front-office

Nowadays, Kita serves as Director of Basketball Operations at NBA Africa. His current role involves a lot of travel across the continent doing developmental work.

Kita says one of the reasons he is in his present position is because of the work he has done locally. He also credits Rivers, who had since moved to the Clippers, for helping to broaden his horizons. 

“While working with Doc Rivers, I built a lot of contacts and relationships within the NBA. I am also one of a handful of people who has attended all 19 Basketball Without Borders Camps. I have  contributed to their success,” said Kita. 

“So when the NBA opened its office in South Africa, I was hired by Amadou Gallo Fall, because of the work I was doing in the basketball developmental space. And with that opportunity, I knew I could have a greater impact because of their (NBA Africa) reach.

“Also, there is no ceiling of what your production will be. Working in South Africa with the various national teams, it was a new level. Of course, there was the experience with the Celtics. When Doc Rivers moved to the Clippers and was president of basketball operations, I learnt how things are done in front offices. So, I never stop learning.”

With all his transitions in the game, what has been Kita’s big takeaway? And does he have any regrets?

“Maybe I could have played in Europe given the skillset I possessed, but I don’t dwell on that. I always look forward to the next step in life and focus on making that a success. I have given a lot more than I have received, which has put me in a good place. So, I am happy,” concluded Kita.

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