The chatter in the key between Calvary Christian forwards Christian Bibi Ndongo and Kevin Cantinol can be a bit confusing to opponents. "Regarde! Regarde!" The two French-speaking forwards often tell each other to "Look out!" for swarming double-teams.
Ironically, it was Cantinol's ability to look out for his good friend Bibi Ndongo that helped the 6-foot-7, 183-pound Cameroon, Africa, native escape a tumultuous situation and flourish at the Clearwater campus.
Bibi Ndongo, a junior transfer from now-defunct Florida Prep, has averaged a double double in leading the Warriors to their best start in school history; five straight wins and a Warrior Thanksgiving Tournament title.
"It's so much better here," said Bibi Ndongo, who averages 14 points and 10 rebounds. "I love it."
Bibi Ndongo came over from Africa in the fall 2004 with a "dream to get an education and play college basketball." The 17-year-old joined several talented international players at Florida Prep, which advanced to the Class A championship in 2005.
The program was expelled from the FHSAA later that year for forging documents. Bibi Ndongo found more problems in his distressing home life.
Thousands of miles from his family, he was living in a two-bedroom house with more than a handful of basketball players. Sometimes he slept in the garage or on the floor. The house didn't always have running water, and, many times, was short on food.
"It was real bad," Bibi Ndongo said. "Real bad."
When the Florida Prep program disbanded earlier this year, Bibi Ndongo became a player without a team. His good friend, Cantinol, a Mississippi-bound star who moved here from the West Indies two years ago, showed Bibi Ndongo how his dreams could come true.
Like Cantinol, Bibi Ndongo lives with a host family, Clearwater dentists Dan and Marsha Mullett. He'll play pool with the couple's youngest son, Calvary junior forward Trent Mullett, or try flag football with his youth group at Heritage United Methodist Church.
Bibi Ndongo, who sleeps in the room left by the Mullett's graduated son, Kyle (at Liberty), won't skip out on chores like taking out the trash.
"He's not staying with us - he's living with us," Marsha Mullet said. "He's one of our sons."
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com or at (727) 893-8129.
(Records through Friday)
1. Lakewood (4-0)
Coach Daniel Wright said this group has the potential to be his best ever.
2. Clearwater (3-0)
The Tornadoes beating Boca Ciega (on the road) and Largo (in overtime) on back-to-back nights was impressive.
3. Largo (3-1)
A few bounces from toppling Tornadoes on the road.
4. Boca Ciega (2-1)
Strong guard play will keep them in contention.
5. St. Petersburg Catholic (3-0)
Without Aaron Holmes, SPC is more balanced.
6. St. Petersburg (2-1)
Star sophomore Shamon Cox & Co. nearly slayed Clearwater.
7. Pinellas Park (2-1)
Scrappy, well-coached Patriots will surprise teams.
Ex-Lakewood star Brian Ligon, below, led Butler to the NIT Tipoff Championship at Madison Square Garden last weekend. ...Countryside alums Matt Geiger and Andrew DeClercq were honored before Friday's game against Alonso.
A Butler assistant visited Lakewood junior forward Mike Morrison. ...Missouri coaches plan to watch Largo guard Ben O'Donnell. ... Clearwater's junior guard Luke Loucks' stock is rising. Said one Big East coach: "Basketball IQ can be a lost art. But his IQ is off the charts."
Game of the Week
Largo at Lakewood, Thursday. Lakewood will get its first big test from Largo, a balanced team conditioned enough to run with the Spartans.