When Mfiondu Kabengele left his meeting with Clippers executives at May’s NBA draft combine in Chicago, he didn’t think much of it.
Kabengele, a forward from Florida State, knew the Clippers did not own a first-round pick. He also understood he was projected to be picked in the draft’s first round. In the six weeks that followed, the Clippers brought dozens of prospects to their temporary facility in El Segundo for workouts.
Kabengele was not among them.
When his agent grabbed his leg before Brooklyn’s 27th pick in Thursday’s NBA draft and alerted him to “be ready,” Kabengele assumed it was a signal he would be staying in New York.
“Then I come to find out that I’m traded to the Clippers,” he said.
If his focus was not on them, their attention was firmly on him.
After entering the draft holding the 48th and 56th picks, the Clippers moved up to grab a big man with shooting range and Hall of Fame lineage. Brooklyn made the pick on behalf of the Clippers, who agreed to send the Nets the 56th pick in addition to a 2020 first-round pick from Philadelphia acquired by Los Angeles as part of a February trade.
“The hat,” the forward said, “is only temporary.”
Kabengele, the nephew of former NBA center Dikembe Mutombo, was later joined on the Clippers’ roster by 48th overall pick and Seminoles teammate Terance Mann.
A 6-foot-6 guard, Mann averaged 11.4 points, 2.5 assists and 6.5 rebounds while shooting a career-best 39% on three-pointers as a senior.
Kabengele, who called himself a forward and center, averaged 13.2 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.5 blocks while making 50.2% of his shots during his sophomore season. He made 37.4% of his three-pointers during his two seasons with the Seminoles, and his comfort from behind the arc comes from playing guard until late in his high school career, before a three-inch growth spurt. He measured 6 feet 10 and 256 pounds with a 7-3 reach at the draft combine.
While redshirting his first season in Tallahassee, long before he popped on the Clippers’ radar, he began soliciting advice from his Hall of Fame uncle about nutrition and how to handle on- and off-court challenges. As the fourth overall selection in the 1991 draft, Mutombo spoke from experience.
Kabengele was one of four Canadians to be drafted in Thursday’s first round, the most the country has produced in a single draft, and he will join a compatriot in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander on the Clippers. Kabengele called the pairing with the all-rookie point guard a “bonus.”
“You know, when you’re from Canada, God hasn’t blessed me a lot with great weather,” Kabengele said. “So I went to Tallahassee. That was a great time. And now I’m off to Los Angeles and join Doc Rivers and his crew and see how they compete on a daily basis.”
He and Mann are expected to play on the team’s Summer League team in Las Vegas next month — along with second-year guard Jerome Robinson and Summer League signings including former Wisconsin forward Nigel Hayes — where they will have the opportunity to display the defense and toughness that helped get them drafted.
“We can contribute to the culture that you guys already have,” Kabengele said. “I just know that when it comes to developing talent, the coaching, I just know it’s the right spot.”
Even if it was one he never saw coming.
Staff writer Dan Woike contributed to this report.