Updated: Jun 11
A native of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Alpha Chibambe grew up wanting to be a soccer player long before realizing his potential on the basketball court. As he started to grow and mature into his current 6’5” and 215-pound frame, Chibambe decided to give basketball a shot. After performing well in front of local talent evaluators, he quickly garnered interest to further develop his talents in the U.S. and is currently enrolled at JSerra High School in San Juan Capistrano, California.
Adjusting to the speed of the American game proved to be initially challenging, but after putting in the work on and off the court, Chibambe continues to climb the ranks as one of the best prospects on the West Coast. While he’s a powerful athlete, Chibambe also brings legitimate size to the guard position, a natural feel for the game, secondary playmaking, and scoring diversity. His blend of natural gifts and budding skill-set have impressed numerous college basketball programs as his recruitment continues to heat up.
As part of the Pro Insight Q&A series, Chibambe discusses his unique basketball background, his current recruitment, making the most of his opportunities, various off-court interests, and more.
For the next installment of the Pro Insight Q&A series, we present 2022 prospect Alpha Chibambe, from the Democratic Republic of Congo:
Pro Insight: Tell us a bit about your background.
Alpha Chibambe: I have two brothers. One here in California and one who is like five years old — he’s back home in Congo. Back home is different from here [United States] — there’s so much culture — people speak like 11 different languages and all that stuff, so it’s kind of different from here. I’m from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
PI: Are there any other athletes in your family?
AC: Yeah, we’re definitely an athletic family: my mom played soccer and she also played basketball a little bit. She’s like 5’10”, so I think I definitely got it from her. My grandpa used to play basketball, too. He’s like 6’8”, so I definitely got it from them. My grandma played volleyball, so it’s definitely a family thing.
PI: Did you play any other sports growing up?
AC: In Africa everybody plays soccer. You have to know how to play soccer. If you don’t know how to play soccer back home it’s like a shame, they would shame you [laughs]. Growing up I wanted to be a soccer player at one point, but when I got taller and they put me as the goal keeper I was like “nah” [laughs].
PI: When did you first start playing basketball?
AC: I started playing basketball around 12 years old and I started taking it seriously around 2016, when I was 13 years old. I started playing at 12 years old and wasn’t taking it seriously until some events happened, then I started taking it seriously at 13 years old.
PI: What type of “events?”
AC: I had to drop out of school. Some stuff happened with my mom and grandma, and I had more time so I was like, “I have nothing to do, no school, I might as well start playing.” Then I started enjoying more and was like, “man, this is actually fun,” so I got into it more and now here I am.
PI: How did you initially learn to play basketball?
AC: At first we had this place that was like a playground near my house and they would do practices from about 5-7 PM, and I would usually go. That’s where I started off, and after that they suggested that I should start doing club. Over there it’s different, there is no high school basketball, it’s just club — all club, all year. They said I should definitely do club and that I have a chance and I tried out for this one club team, they took me in and that’s where I started getting better and started enjoying it more.
PI: What is the basketball scene like in Congo?
AC: Basketball in Congo is different...it’s slower. Here it’s like really fast, the pace is really different. When I first got here I was like, “oh my god I have a long way to go,” but here it’s fast and more IQ. Back home it’s more athleticism and height, because back home 6’5” is like short. It’s more like 6’11” guys, 6’10” guys, 6’8” guards...it’s like all athleticism and height. It’s very physical back home.
PI: How did you wind up in the U.S.?
AC: So when I started playing club, I would play club and on the weekends go play on the playground and there was this one guy, he recruits people and looks out for top prospects back home. He would record you off a Samsung and post it on his YouTube page. Once your video is on YouTube, he has a couple high school coaches that follow him, they’ll see the video and if they’re interested they’ll be like, “yeah we want him” and they’ll send out an I-20. It’s just like getting an offer, but it’s like getting an offer for high school. So it’s just like the same feeling, but he was recording me doing some basic stuff like shooting, dribbling, dunking, etc. — just some basic things so when a coach sees it he can be like, “okay, we can fix him up.” So he posted those videos and I had a couple of high schools wanting me and it’s whoever sends out the I-20 first. An I-20 is like a student visa that gives you access to come to America. It’s like the easiest way to come to America. So whoever sends out the I-20 is where you go. I got my I-20 and here I am.
PI: Is it something you’d been thinking about for awhile, or did it just come up?
AC: I was honestly thinking about graduating and coming to America, but that would’ve been almost impossible because it’s really hard leaving Africa. It just came out of nowhere, he just kind of came up and was like, “why don’t you give it a try, give me a chance with you” and I was like, “alright, it’s just a video” so I went for it. Then he told me, “here are the schools that want you to go to their high school” and I was like, “how does it work?” And in less than three months here I am, it was fast. Leaving a country is hard, leaving the Congo and Africa to come to any other country is hard, but to make it in less than two or three months was a quick process.
PI: What has the adjustment been like?
AC: I mean it was a culture shock for sure, it’s different here because back home there’s so much culture. Africa is full of culture and here it’s just like not as many cultures. Basketball took me a while to get adjusted, it took me almost like a year because here the game is so fast, so fast over here. So when I first came here I had to adjust quickly, like when I first came here my first game was a pickup game in a YMCA and it was already too fast for me. I was like, “dude imagine high school and all those top prospects, it gets worse than this?!” [laughs], but I had to adjust and keep working. It’s all about the work honestly, I just kept working, staying in the gym, consistently playing with people from here, and I got used to it honestly.
PI: Are you naturally pretty built or have you worked on that quite a bit?
AC: I mean people say that I’m naturally huge, but honestly I worked on it. When I first came here I was really skinny, but especially summer in 2019 we really worked on my legs and lower body. I moved in with my host family and they feed me well — I eat a lot of protein and fruits, all of those essentials. When I first came here I was like 170 pounds pushing 180. Now, I’m like 213, so I definitely came a long way — it wasn’t just natural. What is natural is my bounce [laughs], I don’t know how I got it, but my weight — I definitely worked on it and have come a long way….and I’m still working on it.
PI: Describe your game — what are your biggest strengths?
AC: I mean obviously athleticism. I’m really athletic, but I would also say that I’m a versatile player. It depends on who we play, but I can play from the point guard to power forward if I have to, and if it’s a small team I can play all five positions, honestly. I don’t mind playing any position, the coach can put me at the point guard and I can run a play, put me at the shooting guard and I can play on the wing, it doesn’t matter for me...I can run the power forward and take small guys in the paint. I’m more of a versatile player, that’s how I see myself.
PI: How about some areas for improvement?
AC: I’ve got to improve on my jump shot. In Africa there isn’t like a lot of shooting mechanics that you can work on and a lot of African players you see here have issues with shooting. I took a big step during quarantine, I’ve been working on it and it’s been showing some results, but you’ve still gotta work — you can’t ever be satisfied. So I’ve got to work on my shooting and ball-handling, if I can lock those two things in I feel like I can take my game even higher.
PI: What are some underrated aspects of your game?
AC: I probably say straight up my passing, people sleep on my passing. I think I’m a really good passer. I always look to get my teammates involved and people always get on me for passing too much sometimes. People say, “you’re athletic, just attack the rim and dunk the ball,” but I’m always trying to get my teammates involved and I think my passing game is really underrated. It’s not perfect, but I think my passing game is so underrated.
PI: Why do you wear #10? Is there a story behind it?
AC: I mean I just wear #10 because they gave it to me because it’s my size. Honestly I don’t really have a number, but if I had to choose then I would choose #16, but I don’t mind any number. I just grab any jersey that fits me. If it’s a medium then whatever number you got I’ll take it [laughs].
PI: Why would you pick #16?
AC: Because when I first started playing basketball my first jersey was #16 and ever since I kind of fell in love with that number. Also 2016 is the year I started taking basketball seriously.
PI: What are some of your short term goals as a player?
AC: Short term goals are making it to college, then after college making it professional. It doesn’t matter where, I’m just trying to make money out of it to help my family. Just like the type of things that every athlete wants to do, you know — better themselves for their families and stuff like that. So definitely that.
PI: How did COVID-19 affect your development?
AC: I mean during COVID…I think COVID helped me a lot because that’s when I got my weight up because I’ve been working out at home. We bought some weights and jump ropes. Physically I’ve been gaining a lot of weight during quarantine. There’s a park by my house and I’d usually go there and just work. I go there for like an hour and come back home and work on some weights for a little bit. That’s pretty much it, that was my routine: go out to the gym, get some shots up, work on my ball-handling and then come back and work on some weights or something like that.
PI: Who are some of the toughest players you’ve ever had to guard?
PI: What was tough about matching up with him?
AC: I mean he’s just...I won’t say it’s impossible to guard him, but he can shoot the ball really well, he’s athletic, lanky, has good size at 6’8”. He’s a guard, he’s a solid 6’8” guard. It’s like you don’t know what move he’s going to pull up on you because he has like every package in him. If he tries to take me down in the paint that’s not going to work because of my size, but he has the height and skill to take you down and hesi you or anything. He has the whole package, dude — he’s tough. He didn’t drop anything crazy on me, though [laughs].
PI: Do you model your game after anyone in particular?
AC: Dwyane Wade. I like Dwyane Wade’s game: solid 6’4” or 6’5” guard, he can take you down, he’s got good size, can shoot the ball; he’s not too flashy, he keeps it simple, but he can really score so I try to model my game after that. He’s also really athletic, so I model my game like him. I would say Anthony Edwards, but he’s a better shooter and is more of a flashy player, but I like Dwyane Wade more because he’s less flashy and keeps it simple and I try to do that a lot.
PI: Who do you get compared to the most?
AC: People compare me to [Victor] Oladipo, but I don’t know. People always compare me to Oladipo and Anthony Edwards. They compare me to them because we’re the same size, but I like Dwyane Wade more.
PI: What’s the current update with your recruitment?
AC: I mean I’m even shook I’m getting recruited because I didn’t even play club basketball. I just started getting noticed this year and it’s been going well. I’ve been getting tons of calls and a couple offers here and there. More to come so yeah I’m hyped about it.
PI: Who are the schools showing interest and making offers?
AC: Oregon; Oregon State recently offered; Memphis reached out; Arizona has been staying in touch; Arizona State. I’ve been talking with Harvard lately, they’ve been staying in touch — they just texted me after practice. I have a lot of Ivy League schools: Princeton, Dartmouth; I’ve also been talking to USC, they’ve been staying in touch; Cal, we talk to them all the time; Vanderbilt is always in touch with me; Washington State offered me about a month ago; also a few other schools like USCB, they’ve been talking to me all the time; Pepperdine, the coach there is really nice. A couple schools, but yeah it’s all on my phone [laughs], but I’m excited.
PI: Of that list are there any schools pursuing you more than others?
AC: Oregon State has really been coming in, they contact me all the time. Cal contacts me every week — they send out emails and I talk to the whole staff. USC, it’s almost the same thing, they contact me every week, talk to them all the time and get on phone calls with them. Those are the main schools that have been coming in heavy. Also LMU and Virginia Tech.
PI: What are you looking for in a school of choice?
AC: Honestly, I’m looking to a school where obviously they have a good basketball program, but also where I know that even if it doesn’t work out with basketball I can walk out of the school with a good degree. At some point the ball will stop pounding and you never know what can happen next, so I’m just trying to have an option A and an option B so I’m looking for a school where I know that the school can help me whether it be in basketball or being a better man and also getting a good degree.
PI: What type of system best fits your playing style?
AC: I like people that run, because you know I’m all about throwing it up [laughs]. I like teams that run up and down, like Arizona State — they told me all they do is go up and down. They barely run plays, all they do is go up and down and just execute. I like that style of play, I like teams that go up and down.
PI: What do you think you’d major in?
AC: I’d probably say business and management. I haven’t really looked into it all that much yet, but if I had a choice I’d probably say business and management.
PI: Would you like to own your own business one day?
AC: Definitely, 100%. I would love to do that. I mean honestly I would probably own a business that would help me open up a school or a hospital. I would probably be more likely to open up a business back home than here because that’s where there’s more need for something like that. So I’d probably just open up a school or a hospital or an orphanage or even a basketball academy, who knows.
PI: Would you consider playing overseas or in the G-League?
AC: Yeah definitely if it’s anywhere I can get that cash [laughs] I’m going for it. Usually overseas players can get more money than some NBA players — it’s all about making the right decisions, but if you know that you can’t wait and you’re going to make more money in the G-League and the following year you’re going to make the NBA then why not? But it’s all about making it out and making the money at the end of the day. So yeah, for me the way doesn’t matter.
PI: What do you bring to a team off the court?
AC: Off the court if you get to know me you’ll see that I’m really goofy. I tend to joke too much sometimes. I usually try to work on it, like sometimes I play so much, but I’m always trying to have a good time and always trying to have fun, always trying to be positive and that’s about it. I’m more like fun. I love having fun.
PI: Would you say you’re more of an extrovert than an introvert?
AC: Yeah definitely. I’m more outgoing, I’m not just going to sit there and just be shy. I’m always going to make fun of somebody, I just like provoking people [laughs]...I like pissing people off.
PI: Would you say you rely more on your natural talent or your work ethic?
AC: That’s a good question. It varies, honestly. I would probably say more of my work ethic because honestly, when I first came here, when I look back at it, like of course I knew where I wanted to be, but to be where I’m at I think I definitely put the work in and it’s all about the work ethic. Because I’ve been athletic my whole life, that’s been there, but adding the tools and being able to make plays, handle the ball, get my teammates involved, knowing when to shoot or not shoot the ball I think is all work and work ethic because in game I might get 1-2 dunks, but I’ll score 20 [points] off pull-ups, layups, IQ stuff, and stuff you work on. So I’ll probably say it’s work ethic — 100% work ethic.
PI: How do you manage both internal and external expectations?
AC: I don’t let stuff like that get to me. I don’t look at it like that. Even when people consider me as one of the top basketball players in California, I don’t look at it like that because I don’t feel like I owe anybody anything. When I play games and when I practice, I do it for me to better myself so I don’t really look to see what people think about me or what they expect from me. Of course people expect a lot from me, that’s a given, but I don’t really look at it like, “oh yeah I gotta impress the crowd today.” I look to just get better and every time I’m on the court how to make the most out of it and having fun with it. When you do that, that’s when other stuff comes in like, “yeah he’s going crazy” and everybody is watching, but I’m not pressured by none of that at all.
PI: What has been a defining moment or story in your life?
AC: Making that decision to live with Melissa and her taking me in, it changed my life in so many different ways and I will forever be grateful for it. She impacted my life in many different ways. Also, I kind of said it in the beginning, but when I dropped out of school. I didn’t drop out of school, but I had to stop going to school because at some point in 2016...that’s why I’ve always wanted #16 because 2016 is the year where I really matured as a person because that was the year I had to stop going to school because of money back home. We had some issues with my family and that’s what really affected me in my life and opened up my eyes because I was more like a spoiled kid because at some point I was the only child before my brother came in. So I was a little too spoiled, and when that hit me I started looking at life differently. I stopped asking for so much and I started appreciating more. I started taking time more seriously and how you use time because you never know what can happen….it was just a shock, like we didn’t know what happened and it was just going downhill. Had to drop out of school, we weren’t eating the same, things were kind of different, but I think that really helped me and that’s one of the years  I’ll never forget. That’s when I started taking basketball seriously, as I said in the beginning. After that year I realized I have to be more mature and less selfish because I was really selfish.
PI: So that experience helped you mature quicker?
AC: Yep, 100% because I was really spoiled and had everything I wanted and when I asked I always received. Then it was at some point where if you want something I realized I had to go get it. I got myself out, like I didn’t pay for my ticket out of Africa, but I got myself to a point where we can pay for a ticket to get out of Africa. So I just realized that some stuff I gotta go get it myself and I think I needed that. It was a hard time, but I think I needed that and it was really important for me and helped me and my mom. I think she knows it, too.
PI: How difficult was that for your mom when you left home for the U.S.?
AC: For my mom, she was happy about it, but it was hard because I came here when I was like 14 years old I think so it was really hard for me because I was home sick like every month. I had to work on it, but the older I got the more used to it I became and I had to stop complaining.
PI: Who would you say has influenced your life the most up to this point? Why?
AC: My mom, 100% my mom. I really look up to her. She works really hard to get what she wants, so I really look up to her. She really influenced me.
PI: What motivates you?
AC: I mean every African kid would tell you Africa [laughs]. I would say what motivates me is my little brother and my mom, but also to better myself and get a better life in the future.
PI: What’s some of the best advice you’ve ever received?