Isaac Bonga already has a loud game with a tantalizing mix of skills. But the U18 Fraport Skyliners Frankfurt point guard is looking to step up leadership-wise at the EUROLEAGUE BASKETBALL ADIDAS NEXT GENERATION TOURNAMENT Kaunas.
Bonga has been Frankfurt's top player in Kaunas, averaging 12.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 3.5 steals and 1.5 blocks through two games in Group A – albeit two losses.
"I have to be a leader," said the 2.03-meter 17-year-old. "It's a young group and I am also young, but I am one of the older guys here. I want to be a role model for the other guys. And to be the guy to whom the guys look up and say they want to be like me."
After he missed two major national team tournaments in 2016 with injuries, Bonga was one of the biggest names people were looking forward to seeing in Kaunas. Now healthy, Bonga is flashing the tools that make him one of the top prospects of his generation in all of Europe.
This is the second time ANGT fans have seen Bonga, whose parents were both born in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He helped U18 Brose Bamberg reach the semifinals of the 2015-16 ANGT Torneig de Bàsquet Junior Ciutat de L'Hospitalet, where he was named to the All-Tournament Team by averaging 12.3 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.8 steals.
"Last year helped me a lot. I was one of the good players but we also had Moritz Sanders and Arnoldas Kulboka. Now I have good young guys and I have to take responsibility now," said Bonga, who had 16 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 steals in the opening day 65-94 loss against U18 Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius.
That defeat made Bonga realize even more that he needed to be more of a leader: "Sometimes, if things aren't going well, I just have to take the ball and say guys I'm going to do something now. Just be a leader."
Bonga started in the sport when he was 7 years old, playing street ball in Neuwied. He moved to the local club at 9 years old and last season was sharing time with fourth division side Koblenz and the youth teams of Fraport Skyliners Frankfurt.
Bonga has sports in his family. His 20-year-old older brother Tarsis Bonga plays in the youth ranks for German football power Bayer Leverkusen. And Isaac said his younger brother, the 2005-born Joshua, is already wowing observers, playing in a U16 league.
Bonga's father came to Germany from the Democratic Republic of Congo about 20 years with the original intent of heading on to Canada. He ended up staying in Frankfurt and moved to Koblenz, where he lives with Isaac's mother, who is also from DR Congo. Bonga said his oldest brother still lives in Africa.
Bonga, who is a big fan of Dwyane Wade, signed a four-year deal with Frankfurt last off-season because of the chances the club offers.
The 2.03-meter guard already made his debut in the German BBL league, playing the last 29 seconds of Frankfurt's game in late September at Brose Bamberg in front of nearly 7,000 fans. He has played four times for Frankfurt in the top flight, but not since early November. Instead he is playing in the U19 NBBL league and the third division ProB.
The game in Bamberg was an early reward from the Frankfurt coaching staff for Bonga's work in training camp. Bonga was excited about playing a high level after he missed the 2016 Albert Schweitzer Tournament in April because of an injury. And then in December, Bonga was hit in the thigh and ended up missing the FIBA U18 European Championship 2016.
Bonga was only cleared to play on Friday before the ANGT Kaunas started. When asked how he felt being able to finally play again in a high level tournament, Bonga said: "I am really happy because I was really angry about not being able to play. But now it's time for me to be a leader."