Bismack Biyombo: From DR Congo to the NBA with the Toronto Raptors big man

The gentle giant is sure to be a crowd-pleaser at the O2 Arena

Bismack Biyombo is hard to miss.

Not only does the Toronto Raptors centre stand 6ft 9in and weigh almost 18 stone of pure muscle - you only get a sense of the size of him up close - he is a joker off the court, often engaging in mock shouting matches with team-mates and possesses a booming laugh.

When we met in November, a quick request for 30 seconds of his time after a training session turned into an almost 10-minute chat that saw the Raptors' ever-friendly media mogul, Jim LaBumbard, ask him to hurry up rather than us. The rest of the players were already on or heading to the team bus.

Having met a couple of times since, the 23-year-old is not the type of player to ignore you or forget you ever met (they do speak to a lot of different people in the media to be fair), he remembers exactly what you chatted about last time.

His talkative nature has also seen him become a defensive lynchpin for Toronto, despite his youth, and he is one of the NBA's better defensive communicators. He has also quickly established himself as a firm fans' favourite in Canada.

Born in Lubumbashi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo's second city, Biyombo was a relatively late comer to basketball, first playing the game at about 12 and sometimes "with no shoes", he told the Raptors when he arrived from the Charlotte Hornets as a free agent over the summer.

A defensive specialist, his offensive game is still a work in progress, but fans in London can expect high-energy, high-impact minutes when he comes off the bench against the Orlando Magic. He is already a great shot-blocker and rebounder, while he is athletic enough to get up for acrobatic dunks and alley-oops.

Despite his obvious talents, it's clear that Biyombo is just happy to be where he is.

"I have always wanted to go to London, it’s just trying to find the time," he tells us. "This is great opportunity when I heard we were going to be playing there against the Orlando Magic.

"I was a fan of Chelsea when Didier Drogba was there, I know he is not there but I had the chance to see him in Montreal. I look forward to visiting the soccer teams out there and obviously enjoy the city as I have heard a lot of good things about it. I’m a curious guy, I love to be scouting new things and meeting new people.

"I just go out there and have fun, that is just me," he says when asked if he has anything specific planned. "I have travelled the world and I am always excited about new places, seeing new people and learning about the culture of different people."

Toronto signed Biyombo to a one-year, £6million deal in the summer in a move that is increasingly looking like great value. Starting centre Jonas Valanciunas broke his hand earlier in the season meaning Biyombo had to step into a starting role for 18 games.

Biyombo throws down a dunk against the Chicago Bulls

The Raptors, second in the Eastern Conference with 24 wins out of 29, didn't miss a beat. Despite averaging just 23 minutes per game, Biyombo is leading the team in blocks and is second in rebounds.

Head coach Dwayne Casey has already expressed his desire to keep the big man long term.

"He does a man’s job as far as rebounding the ball and going and getting it and protecting the paint," said Casey after Biyombo grabbed a career-high 20 rebounds in a win against the Dallas Mavericks earlier this season.

"He’s huge. I know he’s a free agent after this season, but he’s been a great addition to our team. His energy level, his defensive approach, his spirit has been unshakable. It’s something that is contagious for our team, something that other players have taken up on.

"His presence has really helped us, especially our younger players. Valanciunas watches how he prepares for the game, how he communicates during the game and I think this is going to help him become a better player. As a coach I’m selfish, and I would love to have him back. I know he’s a free agent next year but I’m sure that’s something that Masai [Ujiri] and our front office people will handle at the right time."

Biyombo told us: "I’m loving the experience of being at Toronto, it’s a new opportunity and it’s been great

"So far so good. We are doing better day by day. We have a long way to go, we are going to have our ups and downs but we are fine with it and we are excited about the game in London."

Once again, especially against the backdrop of aggressive expansion by the rival National Football League, who host three games a year in the capital, the prospect of a franchise eventually coming to the UK is a hot topic of conversation.

Biyombo is certainly on board.

"It is a very good idea for the growth of the game. Going from the US to Europe to Africa to China and all over the world, I think it has been amazing. I think the NBA have got to continue to do that because I think a lot of kids dream about the NBA. They dream about seeing NBA players, shaking hands, talking to them and having a conversation with them.

"So to be able to be in those situations where you can get closer to NBA players is a motivation to those kids and probably changes the way they think and see things. Obviously when we go to them I am always trying to make those kids feel as good as possible.

"So I think it is good for us as players to also do that. But in general, for the growth of the game it is great and we look forward and are really excited. The last time I personally watched a NBA game I was 15, in my second year after I started playing basketball so I think it was very interesting. To see all these people playing in front of 20,000 people and you get excited. You are like 'one day I want to be there', and at the same time it is like how can I go from here to the NBA.

The Congolese tower guards Lakers star Kobe Bryant

"It is a process. Obviously with kids they love basketball and are inspired by basketball, you always have to be motivated and have a dream to get somewhere. It is great for a lot of kids out there to get excited about the NBA and they want to be part of this team one day.

"I can only wish them the best, dream big and have fun with your dream and make sure you work as hard as possible because without hard work I’m not sure I would be here.

"All the players have had to work hard and you have the chance to work hard."

He even had a parting message for us journalists as we left.

"Good luck to you guys. I look forward to being in London, I’m going to have some fun and try to see if I can talk in a British accent."

The Orlando Magic host the Toronto Raptors at The O2 in London on January 14 as part of NBA Global Games London 2016. The game is live on BT Sport 1 and BT Sport Showcase or via NBA LEAGUE PASS (www.nba.tv) and will be screened live at 31 ODEON cinemas around the country.

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