It’s been a very busy week for Prosper Karangwa. Less than 36 hours after being named general manager of the Delaware Blue Coats — in addition to retaining his role as Vice President of Player Personnel for the Sixers — on Friday, Karangwa and his staff found themselves making the first overall selection in the 2021 NBA G-League Draft. After making two selections in the draft, Karangwa sat down with The Painted Lines to talk about his origin, his vision for the Blue Coats, first overall selection Shamorie Ponds, and the culture he wants to build.
How does your work change on a day-to-day basis with this promotion?
“I think I have a lot more focus on the Blue Coats’ day-to-day operation than I did last year, obviously, especially with the shortened season. But, it’s an exciting time. It’s an exciting challenge and I look forward to learning a ton, you know, using the likes of Alex [Yoh; Senior Director, Marketing and Communications with the Blue Coats], and, obviously, Coby Karl [Blue Coats head coach], who has had a lot of experience in the G-League and the rest of the staff to really learn all year.”
You were born in Rwanda, and my understanding is that soccer is king there. What guided you towards basketball?
“Yeah, so I was born in Burundi, but I’m Rwandan origin. So, basketball kind of came about, just from growing up in Montreal, and wanting to make friends. The only way I did was to go to the basketball courts because that’s what everyone did. A lot of Canadian kids don’t necessarily play soccer or fútbol, as we call it. They play hockey and basketball, so I just started playing basketball with the rest of the kids and, luckily for me, I had to the height to keep going that route.”
This is probably a bit of a morbid topic, but did you have any family in Rwanda during the genocide times?
“Yeah, unfortunately I did and I still have family members there. But yeah, it’s still dear to my heart. It’s a beautiful country, you know, expanding. They have the NBA Africa league [Basketball Africa League] there. It’s a big basketball country.”
How did that shape your life at all, as you grew up?
“I think I have a different perspective on life, right? Having been born in Africa, growing up in Canada, going to school in the US, playing overseas for eight years, and now being back in the US for the last now 13-14 years. The way I look at it is that I’m a citizen of the world.”
So, you played overseas for a period of time and then you join the Magic and you’re in scouting with them. You come over to Philadelphia, you’re scouting there, as well. How does your experience in the NBA front office as well as your career overseas influence your eye for evaluating talent; not just domestically, but abroad?
“Yeah, I think any world experience kind of gives you a different perspective when you evaluate kids, right? I saw basketball from different angles and being thought differently. I think there’s a lot of different ways to look at players and evaluate players and I think my experience and my worldliness kind of helps in that aspect. Plus, it gives you contacts all over the place. So because I have African origin, and I grew up in Canada, and I played in Europe, I have some close ties with people all over the world that can provide information.”
On the court, how does the game differ in terms of what you’re looking for when you evaluate?
“I think the NBA is completely different than the international game and even different in college game, right? But the reality of it is all looking for the same thing, right? Can dribble, pass and shoot and compete defensively, and that’s kind of the overarching skill set that you want in a good basketball player.”
The Coats’ mission was to match the terminology and scheme of the Sixers. But historically, Daryl Morey has used the G-League to experiment with different schemes. So, should we expect or should fans expect the team pushing boundaries like five-out and small-ball with switchy defense or something more classically matched to what Doc Rivers is doing in Philly?
“Well, we don’t have Joel Embiid. So, we’re gonna have to get a little bit more creative in the way we mimic a lot of things that are done here. But, the number-one goal for us as a program is to develop the players so they can help the Sixers’ organization and to develop the staff so they can help the Sixers’ organization. So, how we go about it, it may differ at times from the way the Sixers are approaching things. But the goal and our ambitions are very similar, right? And doing that development in a winning environment is also very important for us.”
Now, you draft Shamorie Ponds out of St. John’s number-one today. What sort of factored into that decision to take him at the top pick?
“Yeah, not only does he fit a position of need for us, the point guard, and he has experience in the G-League. But also as part of what we try to do at the G-League level is to get these guys a second chance and third chance, some of these reclamation projects, to see if something clicks with us. And I think his skill set kind of complements a lot of the young guys that we want to develop there and hopefully he comes in and he’s learned from his different stops, whether it be Houston or Toronto, and this be the place where things click for him at a high level.”
As a new GM, I’m sure you have a culture that you want to establish with your institution in Delaware. What are those pillars that you’re looking to establish, not just from on the court play, but also as people?
“Yeah, that’s a great question. I think it’s very similar to what our overarching goals are, right? We want to develop, I want this to be a program that’s about development. Development of the Sixers’ assets and whether it’s the players, and definitely the staff, as well. And sort of do this in like a winning environment. And you want people that are team-first, that are hard-working, and I want to get better. I think those are sort of non-negotiables for us.”