ASHEVILLE Bismack Biyombo first picked up a basketball when he was 9 or 10 years old and became serious about the game when he was 14.
He turned 20 in late August. So hes played serious basketball only six years.
Dont expect a savvy and sophisticated scorer this season. At 6-9 and 245 pounds, hell be a stronger and less raw version of the player he was in 2010-11. Hell play center or power forward, rebound, run and defend.
Biyombo is from Lubumbashi in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and played in Yemen and Spain before coming to Charlotte. Some believe he is older than 20. They apparently think that the more time zones he has lived in the more likely the numbers on his birth certificate are to change.
Those rumors began before Charlotte selected him with the seventh pick in the 2011 draft.
The only evidence Ive found that Biyombo might be older than 20 is this:
Im not a big fan of fast food, he says.
Last season was his first in the U.S. The biggest change, he said, was the food. How do you know what youll like? You eat it. He experimented with all kinds of cuisine. Then he discovered steak and chicken. The experiment ended.
Biyombo gets animated when he talks about red and white meat. Last spring he talked about going to his first NASCAR race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. All he knew about NASCAR was what he learned back in the Congo on his brother Billys video game. Yet as he talked he became so excited he almost left his chair.
Before the race Biyombo went west to watch the Oklahoma City-Los Angeles playoff series, missed his flight back to Charlotte and, thus, the Sprint Cup All-Star Race. He was excited about the playoffs, too.
Biyombo stands next to the court at Kimmel Arena Tuesday afternoon after Charlottes first practice of training camp.
What was the best thing you did this summer?
He organized basketball camps back in Lubumbashi.
It was the best thing I ever did in my life, says Biyombo. It was the first time Ive done it. I was around kids every day I had a chance.
The kids were very young and as old as he is, and they knew him; many had watched him, the fourth NBA player from the Democratic Republic of Congo, on ESPN.
Some days hed see kids shooting baskets on a playground and get out of the car and go to them.
Says Biyombo: They were going crazy. They were talking like, What are you doing here? And youre kind of like trying to explain to them, I understand where you guys come from; I came also from here.
If the camps were the best thing he did, what was the most interesting?
One night a younger sister asked if he wanted to watch men leap through fire. He had heard of fire jumpers, but had never seen them.
So Biyombo went, and was mesmerized.
Guys jump over the fire, jump on the fire, he says. I mean, Ive never seen anything like that.
The fire was on the ground?
They build a fire on the ground, and guys have to jump over the fire, and then another fire is in a circle, and they have to jump through the circle, he says. Those things were crazy but were fun to me.
How high was the first fire?
Biyombo puts his hand near his chest.
Many people watched, he says, and 10 participated. The 10 knew what they were doing.
Oh, wow, I liked it, I wanted to watch it again, he says.
Youre 20, and at 20 youre supposed to think youre invincible. You can jump. And youre not full of fast food that will bring you down.
Uh, no, Biyombo says without excitement. Im never going to try.
There probably is a provision in his NBA contract that says: Jumping through fire not permitted.
Its tough to be a kid these days.