Tylor Ongwae only started playing basketball at the age of 15 at Friends School Kamusinga in Western Kenya, but it’s taken him from Kenya to the States, to Sweden and now to Taranaki.
“I played football when I was young, but when I reached high school my brother played basketball and I followed him. I played well in high school in Kenya and one of the coaches from the States saw me play and hooked me up with a college.”
Basketball seemed to agree with him as he was named the most valuable player in Kenya in 2009 and became Friends School Kamusinga’s all-time leader in scoring as he led the team to three national titles.
For a young man from Kenya, his introduction to the American game was an eye opener and made him determined to improve.
“Basketball in the States is more physical than in Kenya. The guys are faster so it took me time to get adjusted, but I stayed in the gym, worked on my game, gained more weight and with time I started getting used to it.
“It was a good experience over there. When we went there, the program wasn’t doing well, and after some time we starting winning a lot of games and it was fun.”
Now, after a successful stint with Swedish side Sodertalje in 2016, the 25-year-old swingman was rearing to take the court as one of two imports for the Taranaki Mountain Airs for the upcoming National Basketball League season
“I really don’t know a lot about this league, but I heard it’s more physical,” Ongwae admitted.
He was no stranger to playing against physical opponents though, having spent the last year playing for Sodertalje in the Euro Cup and Champions League against top European teams.
Between the time he landed in the States in 2012 to now, Ongwae said his game had improved everywhere he went and believed his “jack of all trades” approach to the game would help the Mountain Airs reach a top four finish at the end fo the regular season.
“My three-point shot has really improved, I’ve become a stronger, can finish at the rim and also overall just reading the game. When I went first in the States I was kind of young and played fast, but now just reading the plays and reading how defence plays all that.
“I can score, I can rebound, I can defend. When I came here the coach told me the aim was to finish in the top four. It takes time, but I think with time we’re just going to improve, get better and win games.”
After arriving in New Zealand on Thursday, Ongwae had one day to absorb as much as he could from the Mountain Airs systems before taking to the court for the side in the Northern Blitz preseason tournament in New Plymouth on Saturday.
In the first match against the Hawke’s Bay Hawks, he scored 22 points and matched it with another 20 against the Super City Rangers, also pulling down six rebounds in the match.
“He picked his rebounding up in the second game which is going to be a big thing for us,” Mountain Airs coach Trent Adam said.
“And once he gets his legs back he’ll probably shoot the ball a little bit better and be a little bit better at getting to the rim.”