He helped Espoir retain both the league and playoff titles, only losing one game last season. Now he has opened up about his dreams of playing in the United States of America, though not necessarily in the famed NBA.
Nineteen-year old Olivier Shyaka is in red-hot form and emphasises his thirst for further improvement. "I would love, one day, to play in America," he told Saturday Sport on Wednesday.
Shyaka was born to Augustin Mpanumusingo and Cesalie Nyirabapagasi in Muhanga, Southern Province. He is the third born in a family of five (three boys and two girls).
His father passed away in early 1995, after succumbing to injuries sustained during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
Shyaka attended Muhanga-based Ecole Primaire Gitarama before joining Saint Ignace Muhura in Kamonyi for his Ordinary Level and, later, Espanya Nyanza and Saint Joseph Kagbayi for Advanced Level.He spent just one year at Espanya and then moved to Saint Joseph Kagbayi where he earned his A-Level certificate in Maths, Chemistry and Biology.
Shyaka is currently a second year student at Kigali Independent University (ULK) where he is pursuing a Bachelors degree in Finance.
While growing up and playing volleyball as his first sport, the young Shyaka used to support APR basketball club. "I used to be an APR fan back then, but now I support Espoir, it is my team and I would do anything possible for the club to succeed."
In the American NBA, the power forward is inspired by Michael Jordan's history in the game, while Miami Heats' LeBron James is his main inspiration among the current players.Shyaka says he would probably never have played basketball to the level he is at presently had he not met then St Joseph Kabgayi basketball club and current Espoir head coach Jean Bahifite in 2009. At the time, seeing the potential in him, Bahifite advised Shyaka to ditch volleyball for basketball and the rest is history.
By 2009, the forward was featuring for national volleyball league side Christ-Roi NyanzaBecause of his height and physical strength, Bahufite, who also doubles as the national team assistant coach, took him up late 2009 and started training him regularly as a beginner and brought him to Saint Joseph Kagbayi the following year.
After joining his new school, Shyaka helped Saint Joseph Kabgayi reach national inter-schools' championships final twice - in 2010 and 2011 - and represented the school in the East African Post Primary (FEASSA) Games held in Nakuru, Kenya, and later in Mbarara, Uganda.
In 2011, he was part of the school's team in the national second division basketball league. Unfortunately, the lower league division didn't last long and collapsed soon due to lack of funding.
After completing high school in 2011, Shyaka joined Kigali Basketball Club (in 2012) whom he played for a year and a half, helping them to a third place in the national championships.
During the summer transfer of 2013, Shyaka signed for champions Espoir and rejoined his former coach and mentor, Bahufite.After joining the Nyamirambo-based side, he helped them retain the league title with an unbeaten record and reclaim the play-offs title, losing just one game - against KBC - in the process.Shyaka also helped Espoir finish first runner-up in the memorial tournament honouring the victims of the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi in June, and then Fiba Africa Zone V championships in August.
National team role
In 2012, Shyaka was the driving force for Rwandan national junior team that won the Fiba Africa Zone Five U-18 Championships after beating Kenya in the final at Amahoro indoor stadium. He was named the tournament's Most Valued Player.His masterful performance for the junior side did go a long way in justifying his call-up to the senior national team at the start of 2013. He was a member of the team that finished second behind champions Egypt at the Fiba Zone V Championship in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania.Having justified his place in the team, the youngster was included in the team that represented the country at the 27th edition of FIBA Africa Men's Championships held from August 20-31 in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. Rwanda finished in tenth out of 16 teams in the tournament which was won by powerhouse Angola.
Grateful to mentor
"I take this opportunity to thank my coach and mentor Jean Bahufite, who, out of nothing, made me the player I am today, and also the national team coach (Mutokambali) for his continued advice and the trust he has in me," he said.
"Those two have played the biggest role in my career."
The youngster added: "My team mates too have been pivotal in making me who I am as a basketball player; without them, I wouldn't be here talking to you."