Toronto-born Kwekuteye channels "Mamba Mentality" for SBU

Anton Roxas on Nov 12, 2018 12:41 PM
Toronto-born Kwekuteye channels
Despite being born in Toronto, SBU's James Kwekuteye is a big fan of Kobe Bryant.

San Beda’s rookie shooting guard, James Kwekuteye was only seven-years-old when Kobe Bryant scored 81 points on the Toronto Raptors on January 22, 2006. However, it was at that moment when he decided that the Black Mamba would be his idol. Kwekuteye’s Canadian roots did not prevent him from adopting the “Mamba Mentality” which became handy in different moments of his life.

Born and raised in Toronto, Canada, Kwekuteye never imagined playing basketball in the Philippines. His father, Jonas is Canadian but his mother, Lolita Canlas hails from Angeles, Pampanga. Because of this Filipino connection, Kwekuteye eventually decided to come home to his motherland to participate in the annual NBTC tournament for the Canadian Team. It was at that tournament where Kwekuteye’s talent was noticed and he received offers from NU, CSB and SBU to play collegiate basketball here. Kwekuteye considered all options before deciding to choose SBU because of its “winning tradition”.

Although Kwekuteye was a welcome addition to the Red Lions’ Den, it took a while for him to make an impact, 17 games into his first NCAA season to be exact. It turned out to be perfect time to shine.

It was the most highly anticipated game of the season. The winner would advance to the Final Four as the number one ranked team. San Beda University has finished at the top of the standings at the end of the elimination round in all except one of the last 12 seasons. LPU was responsible for breaking the Red Lions’ streak when they made history last year by winning all of their 18 games en route to their first ever Finals.

Proud as ever, the Red Lions made sure it would a different story this NCAA Season 94.

A packed Fil-Oil Flying V Centre roared for their respective teams last October 18 as the starters of both squads were announced. The Pirates fielded their big guns early as reigning MVP CJay Perez bannered their formidable frontline with team captain Jesper Ayaay and Mike Harry Nzeusseu. While Coach Topex Robinson opted to go with his old reliables, Coach Boyet Fernandez surprisingly included a wildcard in his first five.

“JAMES KWEKUTEYE!!!” screamed the coliseum barker, as the rookie ran towards center court for the jumpball. It was only the third time during the season that Kwekuteye had started for the Red Lions.

“I was surprised when coach came to me the day before and told me I was going to start,” shared Kwekuteye, who tallied a career-high 18 points in that game. “The game just came to me naturally, when I was scoring all of those points. I just gave it my all and it happened.”

Kwekuteye scored 9 of his 18 points in the second period on an array of drives and a three-pointer. During that scoring outburst, the 6’3” shooting guard was seen being motivated by Robert Bolick, who was constantly in his ear.

“Honestly, Robert was just telling me to just go hard and go after it. ‘They can’t stop you.’ And just give it my all. I’ve been looking up to him. He’s been the leader on this team so he just picked me up.”

Bolick and Kwekuteye were like Shaq and Kobe during their early years with the LA Lakers, the old sheriff showing the new kid in town the ropes. It was an emotional moment for the Fil-Canadian. If Kwekuteye can produce those types of games consistently, we could go back to that moment as the passing of the torch.

While enjoying his time in the Philippines, Kwekuteye keeps tabs on what’s happening back north in Canada. He was actually take aback by the blockbuster Kawhi Leonard-DeMar DeRozan trade.

“When I heard about it, I was sad. DeMar… he’s been there from the start, since Day 1 and they just gave him away. It’s hard. But, now, Raptors are doing better without him, I guess.”

When asked about his outlook regarding the 2018-19 NBA campaign of Toronto, Kwekuteye showed optimism.

“For sure, they’re going to go all the way in the East because LeBron’s not there anymore. They can take it this year, for sure.”

In Game 1 of the NCAA Season 94 Finals, Kwekuteye once again got the starting nod from Fernandez. The Red Lions dominated the Pirates, 73-60 with the Fil-Canadian contributing 6 points, 3 rebounds and a steal in 19 minutes of action. With six graduating seniors in the lineup including Bolick and Javee Mocon, this is the perfect opportunity for the Fil-Canadian to experience what it’s like to play at the highest level of collegiate basketball in the country.

“Coach has been saying that these Finals are what counts the most. So, I’m just going to go out there and help the team as much as I can.”

With four more years of eligibility ahead of him, Kwekuteye hopes to become a champion and extend the San Beda era in the NCAA.

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