For Honey Badgers' Mukama, resiliency has paved a road to pro basketball opportunities
Hamilton native's journey has included stops at Raptors 905, NBA Africa, now CEBL
For U Sports athletes, the path to the pros is much more complex than that of their NCAA counterparts.
When he graduated from Ryerson in 2019, Jean-Victor Mukama knew that although his 404 points scored over the course of the season catapulted him to sixth best in program history, it would not be as simple as declaring for the NBA draft, working out, and waiting.
He knew that his three Ontario University Athletics medals – two silvers and one gold – would not shine bright enough for NBA scouts to make the trip across the border to watch him work.
Fresh off of the U Sports circuit, Mukama wasted no time preparing to turn his dreams into reality.
"When I finished school, I knew I was going to try and play pro, I just didn't know where," Mukama said. "So I hired an agent and where I was training is where a lot of people who play for the national team, or current NBA players who are Canadian, train — and [Hamilton coach] Ryan [Schmidt] and a lot of the Honey Badgers staff happened to be [there].
"I also knew [Hamilton teammate] Duane [Notice] a little bit and different people that played in the G-League, so the only route I really had, just because I came from U Sports, was the tryout."
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A successful G-League tryout, unlike an NBA draft combine, hinges on immediate performance.
Over one hundred players – all trying to show that they have what it takes – gather in the same gym, in front of the same coaching staff, vying for attention. Each day, the numbers dwindle, until finally a handful are selected for training camp. From there, two, possibly even one single player, will find themselves on the preseason roster.
Among that small handful to crack the Raptors 905 training camp squad was Mukama.
"I've always been a confident player, but playing professionally was new to me. It's still new to me ... so it was a good confidence boost because it gave me a perspective of where I was at the moment in terms of my skills or what I need to work on."
Victim of the numbers game
As versatile a player as he is, the Raptors 905 – stockpiled with NBA talent like Devin Robinson, Jawun Evans, and Tyler Ennis – were forced, on numbers alone, to release Mukama.
Although not an official member of the 905, Mukama remained in the gym and on their radar, practicing with the team until his departure for NBA Africa.
When Toronto's G-League roster became thin due to injury, the 6'8" guard, who can essentially cover every position on the floor if required, was held in waiting prior to a road trip as the club's safety net. His hard work hadn't gone unnoticed.
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It is Mukama's unwavering confidence, combined with his physical tools, that Schmidt remembered from his time as an assistant with the Raptors 905 program.
Now, Mukama has become Schmidt's Swiss army knife — being utilized in every position and situation, and though quiet in nature, he comes alive on the hardwood.
"The fact that [Raptors 905] wanted me to stay as a practice player until I figured out where I was going to go, it just shows how close I was to really playing with them. My opportunity will come at some point, but I have this experience regardless."