Montana State University

Angola native finds niche at MSU as basketball player, student

March 6, 2009 -- Anne Pettinger, MSU News Service

Thanks to Divaldo Mbunga's talents as a player and the efforts of a coach, the Angola native found his way to Bozeman, where he is now a leader and the lone senior on the MSU basketball team. MSU photo by Kelly Gorham.   High-Res Available

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As a kid growing up in Angola, Divaldo Mbunga knew nothing about Montana, let alone Montana State University. And playing basketball as a child rated second to his love of another sport.

But thanks to his talents as a player and the efforts of a coach, Mbunga found his way to MSU on a basketball scholarship, where he is now a leader and the lone senior on the team.

Mbunga's route to MSU from a city of about 3 million in the south-central African country of Angola has been unusual.

He started playing basketball when he was 9, but Mbunga, now 23, said he didn't really take it seriously.

"I wanted to be a soccer player," he said. "My first sport was soccer."

Several people back in Angola recognized Mbunga's potential in basketball, though, and encouraged him to play basketball in addition to soccer. He also grew to be 6 feet 9 inches tall. Mbunga played basketball with a local team for about nine years, up until he was 19.

At that point, he earned a scholarship to play basketball for Peninsula College, a community college located in Port Angeles, Wash. He said he jumped at the chance.

He did well at Peninsula College, averaging 15 points, eight rebounds and two blocked shots per game. He also earned first team all-division and second team all-conference honors as a sophomore.

At Peninsula, Mbunga also came to the attention of Ryan Orton, who at the time was an assistant MSU men's basketball coach. Orton saw Mbunga play during his freshman year, and he recruited Mbunga to play for MSU, signing him before his second season at Peninsula.

During his two years at MSU, where he plays center, Mbunga has also excelled. Last year he finished first on the team in rebounding and second in scoring. He also earned honorable mention in the all-Big Sky choice, and his 79 offensive rebounds were among the most of any player in the Big Sky conference.

"Divaldo has been a tremendous ambassador for our program as he represents everything good about college athletics," said Brad Huse, MSU men's basketball coach. "He is a good, conscientious student and he gives maximum effort on the court, both in practice and in games."

Mbunga also has high praise for his coaches.

"They have been great helping me, not just as a basketball player, but as a man," Mbunga said. "I've grown up a lot during my time here in Bozeman. I'm more responsible."

Off the court, Mbunga juggles a busy schedule as a student with a major in modern languages and minor in business administration. This semester, he is taking five courses in Spanish and business.

He said it's tough to balance class and basketball, but his professors have helped make it work.

"They're amazing," he said. "Student athletes have to miss a lot of class, but I have great relationships with my professors. They're really flexible."

Mbunga said he hasn't had much time for anything besides basketball and his schoolwork, and he'd like to see more of Montana before he's done at MSU at the end of the summer session.

"I want to go to Yellowstone," he said. "I have been to Missoula to play, but really nowhere else in Montana."

But Mbunga said all he really wants to do, even in his free time, is play basketball.

"All I need is a basketball, five guys, and an opposing team," he said. "I love basketball. I don't know what I'll do when I don't have basketball."

Mbunga said he hasn't decided what he'll do once he is finished at MSU.

"I have to wait to see how the season goes," he said.

Mbunga played his last home court game on Tuesday, and the Bobcats begin Big Sky tourney play at 7 p.m. Saturday, March 7, when they take on the University of Montana. The loser of that game will be finished with its season.

He does hope to get back to Angola for a visit next year. He hasn't been home since he first came to the U.S. in the fall of 2005.

"It wasn't a tough decision (to come to the U.S.), but it was tough to leave my family," said Mbunga, whose parents, three brothers and one sister are in Angola. "That's the hardest part about being here. I'm having a blast. Other than missing my family, I love it."

Even with the distance between Montana and Angola, Mbunga's parents are huge fans. He said they watch all of his basketball games online and are proud of Mbunga's success.

Mbunga's coach predicts he will continue to succeed.

"Divaldo will be a success because of his tremendous work ethic," Huse said. "I only wish we'd had the chance to work with him longer than two years."

Divaldo Mbunga, (406) 579-3524 or