Ogden’s vibe, Weber State’s plan draw Tennessee center Handje Tamba to Wildcats
For the second time in his basketball journey, Handje Tamba will travel far from home to continue playing the sport he loves.
The 6-foot-11 transfer from the University of Tennessee officially signed Tuesday to Weber State. Tamba graduated from high school early and reclassified to the 2021 class, then redshirted last season with the Volunteers.
In his final high school season, his junior year at Knoxville Catholic High School, he averaged 10.3 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game and was named an All-State player by the Tennessee Sports Writers Association. He chose his hometown Tennessee over offers from Auburn and Georgetown.
In his native Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tamba developed a passion for many sports and played plenty of soccer — “but I got a little too tall for soccer, so I was like, maybe let’s try something that’s suited for very tall people,” Tamba told the Standard-Examiner. “So I started playing basketball with a couple friends and family, and I really, really love it.”
The turnaround from there was quick. That was late 2016, Tamba says, and by the summer of 2017 he was emigrating to the United States to attend high school and play basketball. He found a home with a host family in Knoxville. By the time he finished his junior year in high school, he was a consensus three-star prospect and he chose to play for Rick Barnes and the Volunteers.
“Having people who support you, who know you, all of that, that’s why I wanted to go to Tennessee, I wanted to represent them,” he said.
But after a year in the program as a redshirt, he had an itch to get on the court and contribute immediately. So he entered the transfer portal.
“The coach understood. All my friends and family knew I didn’t do it just randomly. It was a decision based on just how much I love the game,” Tamba said.
Without college game footage, his recruitment was a slow build. But eventually, he began hearing consistently from Bradley, Chattanooga and UNC Asheville, as well as Eric Daniels and Weber State. WSU is different than the other choices; Chattanooga and Asheville, for example, are less than 2 hours by car from Knoxville.
But an airplane flight to the mountains of Utah helped Tamba find a fit. He learned that he could consider Utah a basketball state, given the presence of the NBA’s Jazz and seven Division I college programs.
And the city of Ogden?
“I like the vibe and the energy,” he said. “We were in downtown to eat and do all that, and it just felt like somewhere calm.”
It was an unusual recruiting visit in that Tamba arrived the very day the university made Randy Rahe’s retirement public and promoted longtime assistant Eric Duft to head coach. But what seemed weird didn’t last long, he said. Duft and the staff were consistent in their interest in Tamba and in their plan for him.
“I just felt like that was the place I needed to be, from the head coach to the assistants, they all have the same ideas about me,” he said. “They showed me they are interested in the player I am right now and they really think I can help the team, and that’s all I was asking for.”
Weber State basketball recruiting commitments, news, timeline
The young center spent time with coaches going over a development plan. They watched film to show how they envision Tamba fitting offensively and defensively.
“I wanted a school that needs me for who I am and when I work my way toward expanding my game, all of that. So the coaching staff showed me how much they put time and effort in getting the best out of players,” Tamba said. “They showed me Joel Bolomboy and talked about how much time he put in, and how they helped him get where he wanted to go. So if I can give the same effort and they give the same time to get me where I want to be, then that’s the place I need to commit.”
So Tamba chose to leave Knoxville, the only home he’s known in the United States since arriving five years ago, and has four seasons to play at Weber State. His host family in Tennessee was supportive from the start.
“They didn’t blink at all when I told them I wanted to leave. It was hard because it’s easier to take a five-minute ride in the car to go watch a basketball game than it is to take a plane and go watch at Weber State, but they were very understanding no matter where I wanted to go,” he said. “They were supportive and said just ‘do what’s best for you.'”
Tamba is known as an accomplished student. He’s fluent in the languages of English, French and Lingala. He said he’s interested in engineering and biology, but the focus for his studies at Weber State is likely to be economics. He said he’s a bit nuts about sports and follows FC Barcelona (soccer), Novak Djokovic (tennis) and the Milwaukee Bucks (basketball) as his favorites.
He’s tried to watch every game of this year’s NBA Playoffs, trying to soak up as much as he can.
“I’m just a student of the game, and every game there’s at least one person I cheer for unless they’re playing Milwaukee,” he said.
Tamba is the sixth commitment of the 2022 class and is the fourth freshman out of 11 currently committed scholarships. He’s set to join sophomore Alex Tew as Weber State’s rotation at center, when a traditional center is played, and he’s the third Division I transfer to sign with WSU.
The Wildcats have two more scholarships available; positions of need for those two spots are likely to be at forward and shooting guard. Tamba will join the program later in June for the next session of summer school.
“I just want people to know that I’m excited to be part of Weber State, the Wildcat family, and we’re going to put time, effort and dedication into making the fanbase and the people who care about the program proud.”