Didier Ilunga-Mbenga

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Didier Ilunga-Mbenga

DJ Mbenga rejects a dunk by Kobe Bryant
Position: Center
Height: 7'0"
Weight: 245
Nationality: Belgium
Born: 12/30/1980
Birthplace: Kinshasa, Congo
Draft: undrafted
Drafted By: N/A
College: N/A
NBA Career: 2005-Present
Mavs Tenure: 2005-2007
Didier Ilunga-Mbenga, also known as D.J. (born December 30, 1980 in Kinshasa, Congo) was signed as a rookie free agent on July 14, 2004, and he re-signed with the Mavs on July 13, 2006.

Mbenga lived in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Congo) for seventeen years as the son of a family involved in the Congolese government. His father was in the country's government during the time of a political uprising. D.J. (among many others) was falsely imprisoned during the uprising and sentenced to be executed. In the year 1999, after nine months being heavily mistreated in prison, D.J. managed to escape after his brother bribed one of the prison guards. Fearing for their lives, D.J. and his mother got on a flight out of the Congo. The first available flight led him to Belgium where they were given political asylum and later established citizenship.

Once in Belgium, Didier stayed in the town of Kapellen, where he was spotted on the streets by former Belgian basketball legend Willy Steveniers. Impressed by his physical appearance, he offered to teach Didier the game of basketball. In the time to come, Steveniers would serve as Didier's personal basketball mentor as well as substitute father.

After years of training with Steveniers,along with two seasons in the Belgian National Junior Youth League and year in the country's Second Division, Mbenga spent the 2003-2004 season with TEC Spirou Charleroi of the Belgian League where, in 34 games, he averaged 6.3 points and 4.1 rebounds. In 12 ULEB Cup games, he averaged 5.8 points, 3.0 boards and 1.4 blocks per game. In the previous season,2002-2003, he had averaged 8.1 points and 8.1 rebounds in 21 games for Leuven of the Belgian League First Division.

Mbenga signed a free agent contract with the Mavericks in 2004 and saw his first action for the Dallas at the Summer Pro League in Long Beach and the Rocky Mountain Revue in Salt Lake City. In ten total games, he averaged 4.8 points, 4.2 rebounds and a team-high 2.60 blocks per game.

His performance was impressive enough for the Mavs to keep him around and in 2004-2005 he saw action in 15 games, with one start; he played a total of 58 minutes, scored 15 points, snatched eight boards and blocked five shots.

Work continued for Mbenga over the summer of 2005 as he played in a combined ten games in the Reebok Vegas Summer League and the Reebok Rocky Mountain Revue. He averaged 6.2 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.70 blocks in 19.1 minutes per game. Improvement seemed steady.

The hard work payed off in 2005-2006 as Mbenga's court time rose substantially.

Mbenga played in 43 games (including one start), averaging 1.7 points, 1.3 rebounds and 0.58 blocks in 5.1 minutes per game. When he started a game against Phoenix on April 13, Mbenga collected five boards, two blocks and three points in 13 minutes. For the season, he shot 53.3 % from the floor and 50 % from the charity stripe.

Dallas advanced through the NBA playoffs that season but a chunk of it was without D.J. He was suspended for six games without pay by NBA Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations, Stu Jackson. Mbenga saw Head Coach Avery Johnson's wife being disturbed by some fans and, along with Mark Cuban, went to escort her to the locker room. However, despite his good intentions, the suspension stood due to the league's policy about players going into the stands.

Although the next season began promisingly enough with Mbenga playing in 26 games, on February 7, 2007, DJ was injured and tore a knee ligament. Mbenga was hurt in the fourth quarter February 7, against Memphis. The early diagnosis was a strained right knee, but an MRI the next day revealed a torn ACL. The 7'0 center's season ended immediately with him averaging nearly four minutes, 0.8 points and 0.5 rebounds.

He left Dallas after the season and signed with Golden State and his former head coach Don Nelson. Mbenga played in 16 games for the Warriors before being released on January 6, 2008. Two weeks later he was signed to the first of two ten-day contracts by the Los Angeles Lakers who ultimately signed him for the rest of the year.

His career with the Lakers lasted two additional seasons with the highlights being a career night on April 9, 2010 against New Orleans when he had 10 points and 12 rebounds and, of course, the two World Championship rings he has to show for his time there.

Before the 2010-2011 season, he signed as a free agent with the New Orleans Hornets.

Prior to the 2012-2013 campaign, Mbenga was invited to training camp by the Mavericks but was released before the first preseason game.

Mbenga, who speaks five languages, two dialects from the Congo, Portugese, French and English, and owns a black belt in judo is very involved in his charity that help youth back in his native Congo. |