Unraveling the Tom Wamukota mystery

Kilgore (Texas) College center Tom Wamukota visited Wichita State last week, bringing with him an interesting background. He played little as a freshman at NAIA Wiley (Texas) College, averaging 2.7 points and 2.6 rebounds.

His junior college coach explained that Wamukota went through a growth spurt recently, explaining his rise from little-used NAIA center to NCAA Division I prospect. That didn’t explain it all. Wiley coach Andre Payne is happy to fill in the blanks.

Wamukota, Payne said, came to his school in the summer of 2012 with a long road to eligibility (as Ehimen Orukpe can attest) after growing up in Kenya. He did not get eligible until mid-November. By then, Wiley had two seniors playing ahead of him in a full-court pressing system.

“Our system wasn’t designed for him,” Payne said. “We’re trapping and running all over the court. I hadn’t seen him play. We didn’t know how good he was.”

While Wamukota grew up playing basketball, the adjustment to the fast-paced college game also took time. Payne looked forward to this season with a 6-foot-11 sophomore on his roster, acclimated and ready to go.

“I had planned on making him the primary go-to guy this year,” he said.

Wamukota, however, wanted to hit the big time. Payne told him he was capable of playing NCAA Division I basketball.

“I wanted him to stay, but I told him ‘I can’t lie to you,’” Payne said. “‘You’ve got what it takes to play major college basketball.’”

Payne raves about his former player. He spoke to WSU coaches and gave them a strong recommendation on Wamukota.

“He’s the type of the kid you want around your program,” he said. “He’s going to class. He’s not going to get into any trouble.”

And, he can play. Ignore those NAIA numbers. His potential appears much higher.

“He’s probably one of the more athletic 6-11 kids you’ve seen in awhile,” Payne said. “His hustle is second to none. He rebounds above the rim. He blocks shots.”

Wamukota, according to Kilgore coach Brian Hoberecht, is considering several schools, including Saint Louis, Houston, Texas Tech and Utah State.