OGDEN — The game of basketball was born in 1891 in Springfield, Mass., grew up in the American heartland and has spread across the globe.
Joel Bolomboy was born in 1994 in Russia to a father from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and a mother from Russia, grew up in Texas and has made basketball his world.
The 6-foot-9 freshman forward has yet to crack Weber State’s starting lineup, but he’s quickly becoming a fan favorite for his athletic dunks and shot-altering ability.
Both were on display Saturday night as WSU dispatched NAIA school University of the Southwest by 65 points. With an alley-oop here and a two-handed slam there, Bolomboy’s dunks were more entertaining than the game itself as he went 8 for 8 from the field to score a career-high 16 points.
On one defensive possession for the Wildcats, a Southwest player tried to change his shot to float it over Bolomboy’s outstretched wingspan, only to see the freshman be quick enough to drop back and corral the airball.
Several other opposing players have tested Bolomboy this season, only to see him swat their shot into the third or fourth row of the stands as he did the previous week at Eastern Washington when he scored nine points, grabbed 12 rebounds and blocked three shots in just 13 minutes in the first half.
For all the excitement, however, Bolomboy is still a raw prospect, a freshman being asked to learn to play two positions while being coached to expand his game offensively and defensively beyond just the flashy dunks and blocks.
“He’s got worlds of potential,” Weber State coach Randy Rahe says, “and it could be a lot of fun for him and what he could become. A lot of it is going to be based on how hard he works and how good he wants to be, but Joel is one of those kids that wants to be good.
“He’s got the potential to be a special player for us down the road once he gets a little stronger and everything starts to fall in place for him.”
Weber State hasn’t had a post player as lengthy and as athletic as Bolomboy during Rahe’s seven seasons in Ogden.
“It changes things for us. It changes us defensively, he’s a rim protector,” Rahe said. “You feel really good about the fact that when he’s on the court, there’s a pretty dang good chance he’s going to get that rebound for you.”
Bolomboy ranks in the top 10 in the country in rebounds per minute.
In 22.1 minutes per game off the bench, Bolomboy averages 7.9 points per game, is second in the Big Sky Conference in rebounding at 8.4 boards per game despite playing 12.5 fewer minutes per game than the league leader. He is also second in the league in field goal percentage (.638) behind teammate Frank Otis and sixth in blocked shots (1.5 bpg).
Offensively, Bolomboy is trying to develop a couple of go-to moves in the low post and extend his range with a 15- to 17-foot jumper.
Rahe likes the blocks, dunks and rebounds as much as the fans but says he is just as excited by the type of person Bolomboy is.
“He’s a wonderful kid. He’s got tremendous high character and comes from a great family with great values,” Rahe said. “He’s a very unspoiled type of kid.”
Bolomboy’s background is as unique as his talent.
His father, Joseph, left the Democratic Republic of the Congo to study at a university in Russia.
“My dad got an academic scholarship, he had choices but he couldn’t afford to come over to the USA,” Bolomboy said, “so he (went to Russia where he) met my mom”
A couple years later, the Bolomboys were able to move to Texas, where Joseph already had family living.
Bolomboy was too young to remember living outside the United States, but it was an adjustment for his parents to come to yet another country and culture. He still has grandparents in the Congo and in Russia.
“It took time, of course. They just had to get used to it, go back to finish up school, learn a new language — learn how to drive a car. That was a big thing because back then they had just (used) train and bus.”
Bolomboy is making his own adjustments now after being a dominant player in high school.
As a senior at Keller Central High School in Fort Worth, Texas, Bolomboy averaged 17.8 points per game, tops in the 5-A classification, and 12.9 rebounds per game — a double-double average — while helping the Chargers to a 27-8 record.
He had received interest from New Mexico, Fresno State, Louisiana Tech, Missouri State, Hartford, Long Island, IUPUI, and St. Francis by his junior season, but by his senior year, Bolomboy had already committed to the Wildcats.
He gave his verbal commitment to WSU’s coaching staff in September 2011, then cancelled scheduled visits to New Mexico and Clemson.
“Weber State was the first school recruiting me. I just got really comfortable with the coaches and I came on my visit and I was comfortable with the players and it just felt normal,” he said. “I really liked it and decided to come here.”
Bolomboy’s lengthy 6-foot-9 frame, impressive wingspan and athleticism mean he will likely have an opportunity to play professionally after college if he lives up to his tremendous potential. He hopes to play in the NBA.
“I think the sky is the limit for me,” he said, though the Big Sky may not be. “The coaches believe in me, the players believe in me, so I can do a lot. They believe in me and they push me every day. They’re not going to quit on me so I’ll just keep getting better.”