“I was more excited than nervous, for sure.”
We were excited too, Mfiondu. After impressing in Summer League and signing a two-way deal with the Celtics this off-season, Kabengele showed not just what Boston saw in Vegas to bring him in as a developmental project, but a glimpse of how he could imprint the game with his hustle and exuberance. For a young player trying to make it in the NBA, sometimes, you have to open a few eyes first and Kabengele did just that Sunday night in the Celtics first preseason game.
In front of a home crowd at TD Garden, the third year player was electric in just under eleven minutes. It wasn’t that he hit all four of his shots, including a three-pointer and completing an and-1. He played with an infectious energy that, for a role player trying to carve out a role, could earn him some minutes early in the regular season with Danilo Gallinari and Robert Williams out for an extended period.
"See ball, get ball. That’s all I was thinking,” Kabengele said after making winning play after winning play. “I appreciate the fans. That was dope.”
Kabengele understands the opportunity in front of him. After being drafted 27th overall in 2019, he’s bounced around from the Clippers to the Cavaliers to the G-League where he won a championship with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. Kabengele averaged 17 points and 9 rebounds, including 44.6% from behind the arc. However, he’s got his sights on bigger things.
“Warming up, I just saw all the banners and I was like, ‘man, it feels good to be back on top,’” Kabengele said about Boston’s storied history. “It’s something you dream about and now that I’m back, I want to stay here for a long time. I’m definitely grateful.”
So far, he’s keeping a cool head. He’s embraced Al Horford and Robert Williams as mentors with head coach Joe Mazzulla simplifying his focus to start training camp. “Double R: rebound and roll. That’s what I do,” Kabengele said.
But for Kabengele to find long-term success with the Celtics and this league, he’ll have to do more than just pull down the occasional offensive rebound or hit a wide open three. Here’s the big man working on the nuances of the pick-and-roll with Jaylen Brown from Monday’s practice.
Jaylen leading Kabengele through pick and roll reads. pic.twitter.com/DFZGn9Qvg9— Chris Forsberg (@ChrisForsberg_) October 3, 2022
“Regardless of how much time you had, what’s your presence?” Mazzulla said of Kabengele’s limited yet impactful minutes on Sunday. “Where is it felt? What’s our defense like when you’re on the floor and then how are you going to help our offense? I thought his presence was great.”