LANGLEY, British Columbia - Justin Bakuteka was always a bit of a quieter fellow.
But when he his parents and his six siblings moved to Canada – first Montreal for a few months and then Toronto – from his original hometown of Kinshasa, the capital city in what is now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo, he was as quiet as he had ever been. And justifiably so.
Bakuteka’s family left the DRC in 1998, around the time of the start of the Second Congo War, looking for a better life and a better opportunity for their seven children, of which Bakuteka is the third youngest. For Bakuteka, not unlike anyone who makes a continental and cultural move, he found himself in a foreign environment with a completely foreign language.
“I didn’t really fit in,” recalled the Spartans 6-foot, 175-pound second-year guard who transferred from Lakeland College this year. “I didn’t really talk much. I spoke a little French but I didn’t speak any English. So I was a pretty quiet kid. Going to school I never said anything.”
Fortunately for Bakuteka, he was pretty darn good at sports.
While inside the classroom, he stuck to himself, when it came to sports he had an outlet.
“That’s what got me to communicate with the other kids,” Bakuteka said. “I was athletic and I played all different sports. So that’s how I was able to interact with the kids.”
Growing up in Kinshasa, Bakuteka was forever playing soccer with his older brothers and the other kids in his neighbourhood. While his living conditions were, as he says, “pretty nice…for over there,” given that his family had a house with running water, it was still very much a volatile upbringing in terms of what was going on in their city and country.
“Life was pretty rough there,” Bakuteka said.
But like in Canada when he looked to sports for an outlet, the same can be said for his time in Kinshasa.
“I played a lot of sports,” Bakuteka said. “I played soccer mostly. All I remember was playing with my brothers. I think I was too young to notice [the gravity of the civil war]. I was sheltered.”
Upon coming to Canada, and moving to downtown Toronto, while he was quiet amongst his peers, on the field of play he quickly started to make plenty of noise. Playing soccer, basketball and even volleyball it wasn’t long before he was captaining high school teams and earning athletic accolades.
In Grade 7, Bakuteka started taking basketball a little more seriously and then, after moving to the west side of Toronto in Grade 8, focused his athletic efforts entirely on basketball.
“I left all the other sports behind me and kept playing basketball,” Bakuteka said. “I was a soccer guy for a long time. But everyone plays basketball in Toronto. After that I started pursuing my goal of playing post-secondary basketball.”
Bakuteka played his first three years of high school basketball at Father Henry Carr Catholic before transferring to Martingrove Collegiate Institute for his Grade 12 and Grade 13 seasons. In 2010, he led Martingrove to an OFSAA (Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations) “AAA” Championship and in the process led the tournament in scoring with 94 points in five games.
After taking his fifth year of high school in Ontario, he was recruited by Lakeland College in Lloydminster, Alta. where last year he helped his team to a 17-3 regular season record and a fourth place finish in the ACAC (Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference) playoffs. In his second semester, Bakuteka got a chance to start and he took full advantage as he went on to average 9.6 points per game and was named Lakeland’s Rookie of the Year.
Spartans coach Scott Allen heard about all the noise the quiet guy from Toronto was making and he had to have him.
Then once Allen had Bakuteka on the Langley campus, the shooting guard turned point guard was sold.
“It didn’t take much,” Bakuteka said. “Just one visit. I figured if the opportunity was there, why not jump into it. It was a perfect fit for me so why wait for another school when the ideal school was already here.”
For Allen it was also very much a perfect fit.
“Justin is a quality person,” Allen said. “He cares about his teammates. He cares about his family. He cares about his school. He’s been a welcome addition to the team this year. He’s a hard worker. He cares about his development as a player.”
Being raised in an environment in which Bakuteka was in the DRC, family was, and continued to be upon coming to Canada, everything. That tight family connection was immediately evident when Allen first met him.
“His family heritage is very apparent in how he treats people,” Allen said. “Justin brings that joy and peace to our team and realizes that basketball is a game and there are a lot more important things in life.”
Since coming to Trinity Western, it’s been a bit of an up and down season for Bakuteka but one that is starting to come around. With this only being his second year out of high school, he still has plenty of time to learn the nuances of the CIS game but so far it’s been coming along well. Back in November, he put up a career-high 12 points and added four assists while more recently, in the past two games combined, he’s put up 20 points, collected eight rebounds and has four assists as he’s starting to get more significant minutes.
“I’m still learning but this year was a learning step for me,” said Bakuteka, who is studying business. “The past few games, I’ve felt more comfortable on the court and running the team. I’ve never played point guard. I was always the scorer. I’m learning how to set up my teammates and learning what to do in the point guard position.”
Allen added: “The adjustments of playing in Canada West can be tough but he’s shown signs of brilliance. We’re really excited about his future.”
Hey may have once been a bit of quieter individual at once but at the trajectory he’s on, it’s likely you’ll be hearing a whole lot from him in the near future.
Last Updated: 2012-02-04