Growing Up ... Christian Eyenga

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They’ve always had talent, but what were the Cavaliers like before they became rich and gigantic and famous?

At just 21 years of age, Cavaliers rookie swingman, Christian Eyenga, is actually still in the process of growing up. Although he’s been playing pro hoops overseas since he was 16, the multilingual high-flier is still adjusting to the NBA game.

His aerial exploits have already earned him a reputation and recently, Eyenga’s found his range from long-distance – canning seven straight treys before missing on Sunday.

In today’s Growing Up, the former first-rounder from the People’s Republic of the Congo took a moment to talk about his first sports love, growing up away from his family and, of course, his
first dunk …


My hometown in Congo is … called Kinshasa. It is southwest. It’s a big city; bigger than New York. It’s the biggest city in the Congo.

I have a little sister … back in the Congo. So with my mom, it’s me and my sister. She’s 11 years old.

I don’t think my sister … plays basketball yet. My mom told me last time we talked that she’s trying to dribble.

The last time … I saw my sister was two years ago. I see my mom every year.

I grew up speaking French … with my mom. With friends, I speak Lingala. And with my grandmother, I speak Swahili.

In the school I went to in Kinschasa … we spoke French.

My English is … much better now. I have teammates that help me a lot. We hang out together, so l’m learning better how to speak.

I started to play basketball … when I was so young! I was like in fifth grade – about 10 years old. And I was 16 went I went to Spain.

The scouts found me … at “Basketball Without Borders” in ’06, I think. They found me there and said, “You can play pros if you work hard.” And I said, ‘Help me if you think I can play pro.’

I was one of five best … players at the camp. And they said, “OK, we will bring you to Europe.”

It was so hard for my mom to let me go … to Spain. It was hard to leave the Congo at 16 years old and live in Spain. But I told my mom, that’s what I want to do. She said, “If you tell me you want to do this, do it.”

My agent and my friends … looked out for me in Spain. My first year, it was a little bit hard. You know, in the first year you move, things are hard. But the second year, every day it got better.

I also play … soccer. In high school, if I had played soccer, I would have been one of the greats in the city. I was good at soccer. I love soccer.

When I grew up … soccer was my favorite. I didn’t like basketball. But I didn’t try it! I played football, I loved to play football.

One day, my mom … gives me the basketball. I just try it. ‘Oh, it’s fun!’ And I started playing and blocking people and I said, ‘That’s good!’

One guy said to me … “You’re athletic. You can play. You could dunk.” He tried to teach me a little bit. He taught me for four or five months when I was maybe 11 or 12. I said OK, and I just played. And it happened, and I said: ‘Wow!

So I played every day … and then I joined the team. And I was one of the best players on the team, so I went to the first league in the Congo.

The coach who made me better … was in Spain. He taught me a lot of things, not just basketball. His name was Jose Maria Margal. (He played basketball with Chris Jent.) He was my favorite coach.

When I came to Spain … I can’t dribble. I can shoot. I was a dunker. I dunked everything. He said to me, first of all, ‘Where do you want to play?’ And I said, ‘I want to play in the NBA.’ He said if you want to play in the NBA, you need to dribble, you need play without the ball -- not just think about dunking. Because you’ll see guys who are same athletic as you. And they will block your shot.

He taught me to … work hard. Every morning. Every day. And every day, I get better with my dribble.

I remember my … first dunk. I was 15. It was two-hands. I just went. I said, ‘I can’t dunk.’ But I just tried it, and I dunked and I said: ‘Wow! I love it!’ Then I started dunking. And I got better and better every day.

Now my mother and my sister can … watch my games. My mom texts me after the game.

People in the Congo … saw the dunk against the Lakers. They were crazy for that. It was on the news. It was good!