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International talent elevates Rams basketball to No. 13

Colorado+State+University+guard+Rashaan+Mbemba+%2821%29+shoots+the+ball+Nov.+10.+After+a+tough+game%2C+CSU+beat+Wright+State+University+105-77.
Collegian | Avery Coates
Colorado State University guard Rashaan Mbemba (21) shoots the ball Nov. 10. After a tough game, CSU beat Wright State University 105-77.

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to more accurately reflect the fact that CSU men’s basketball is ranked the highest they have ever been in the AP Poll and the NCAA Coaches Poll, not that this season is their best start in program history.

Transcending borders, Rashaan Mbemba is turning his dreams into a reality at Colorado State.

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Bringing in a wealth of skills from overseas, the 6-foot-7-inch guard found his home in Fort Collins for the 2023-24 basketball season. 

Before embarking on his international journey to CSU, Mbemba played professional basketball for Sportklub Niederösterreich St. Pölten Basketball in Austria 2019-23, where he averaged 11 points, seven rebounds and 1.2 assists per game in his final season. 

“You can learn so much out of it just from being young and playing against them,” Mbemba said. “At the end of the day, after the game, they want young people to succeed, and that’s helped me get to the level I am at now, so things like a great experience on everybody who can play against older guys should use that.” 

Playing at a professional level from the age of 16, Mbemba has excelled in the game of basketball on many levels, including his ability to get physical in the low post. Luckily for the Rams and coach Niko Medved, Mbemba has brought that physicality in a much-needed way to the team. 

“You’re coming from overseas — you know, Rashaan had played against men, so he played against older guys,” Medved said. “The athleticism in the U.S. is better than it is (at) the level he was playing, but he’s older; Sam Jones, who was on our staff who had coached in the Netherlands, (got to) know him and got on Rashaan and recruited him and was the young man that wanted to come to the states, and that’s kind (of) how that process started.”

Although it was an impressive feat to compete in the professional Austrian league, coming to play American basketball poses its challenges.

For Mbemba, physicality didn’t require much of an adjustment — it was the pace of play that needed extra attention.

“With practice going on, I’m trying to get better every day,” Mbemba said. “Also with the team helping me out, the coaches and with watching film every now and then, it makes it a lot easier to also adjust. Seeing what mistakes you do, it’s easier to avoid them”

Speaking of pace, the Rams are off to an 8-0 start this season. That’s garnered them national attention, being ranked No. 13 in the AP Poll and No. 12 in the Coaches Poll. Mbemba has been a large contributor to the teams success this season, but it hasn’t come easy.

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They have dealt with several injuries, including one to big man Patrick Cartier.

Cartier’s injury kept him out for most of the Rams’ biggest game so far this season against then-No. 8 Creighton. As Medved looked down the bench, he locked in on Mbemba, who didn’t disappoint, posting a career-high 13 points.

“He knew he was going to play in the game; it’s just obviously his role, and when it happens during the game, you don’t really have time to think — you just go,” Medved said. “I think he has a lot of confidence in himself, and that’s what he came here to do, and he was ready when his number got called.”

Despite Cartier’s absence on the court, he became a vital support system for Mbemba throughout his transition to American college basketball. Although they have different styles of play, they have still been able to feed off of each other to better their presence on the court.

“I think Rashaan is naturally competitive — he’s super skilled, and he’s a big physical presence for us, and I told him to embrace that,” Cartier said. “He’s really strong, and he’s got long arms and is a little different than my play style in terms of I’m a little skinnier and just have a different style, and like I said, he brings a more physical presence to this team, and my advice to him is it just be himself and trust his instincts because he has great instincts.”

Mbemba has been in the United States for six months now, and along with basketball, he also has to adjust to the CSU lifestyle, including experiencing things outside of basketball.

While his reason for coming to the U.S. was to play basketball and develop his skills to get ready for draft eligibility, extracurricular activities are still a drive in his life.

“I (am) on the game a lot with friends,” Mbemba said. “Run some Fortnite, 2K, but otherwise just try to chill, and the free time I have, I try to talk a lot with my family because of the time difference — but otherwise not too much going on outside of basketball.”

Reach Luke Hojnowski at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @lukehojo.

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