Wooden Cup Profile: Lunzaya Nlandu

Dec. 22, 2004

This is one in a series of profiles on finalists for the John Wooden Cup presented by Athletes for a Better World. The inaugural award will be presented to two distinguished athletes - one collegiate and one professional - that best display character, teamwork and citizenship as determined by the ABW John Wooden Cup Committee. Twelve athletes in both the collegiate and professional categories reached the semifinal round and the trophy will be presented in Los Angeles on Jan. 10. ABW was founded in 1998 on the principles of hard work, fair play, commitment to team, sportsmanship and community service.

Mallory Carra

Special to CollegeSports.com


Western Carolina University basketball player Lunzaya Nlandu means business.


The senior business administration major will graduate in May, but he has already begun his quest to become a successful entrepreneur. Nlandu, 24, started a non-profit organization with a friend to send education supplies to those in need and is in the process of building a new mall in the Cullowhee, N.C., area with fellow classmates.


"I want to create something for other people," he said. "I like thinking of new creations and new ideas to put on the market. It's all about big plans in life and I don't want to be left behind."


It's those enterprising ideas and his commitment to community service that has placed him among the 12 collegiate semifinalists for the inaugural John Wooden Trophy from Athletes for a Better World.


"I'm so excited," he said. "I'm so happy I can't explain it. To just be nominated for this type of award, I'm delighted."


This past summer, Nlandu and friend Paul Aloo started Africed - standing for Africa Education -- a non-profit organization that promotes education in countries lacking resources. The duo plans to send books and help build libraries in countries primarily in Africa, South America.


The idea for Africed came while Nlandu and Aloo went around collecting books that were being thrown out by professors and students on campus at the end of the semester. With 500 used textbooks collected, the two realized that the supplies could benefit places were educational resources are lacking.


"We said to ourselves, `Why not start an organization to build libraries, send books and help educate to countries that need it?'" he said.


After 10,000 donations from the campus bookstore and other sources, Africed has more than 20,000 books in storage, and Nlandu and Aloo are busy writing grants to pay for shipping costs, office space and storage.


But Africed is not Nlandu's only bright idea. He and three classmates put together project for a business class that would bring a mall and residential homes to Cullowhee - and they decided to bring the project to life.


"We're going to find some investors and incorporate a business in January," Nlandu said. "Within the next year and a half, we're hoping to have a building in place for the mall."


Right now, Nlandu has started his final year with Western Carolina basketball team, which opened the season Nov. 14 with a 75-64 loss to Marquette at the Black Coaches Association Classic in Milwaukee, Wisc. The Catamounts are 5-8 on the season with Nlandu starting six times and averaging 4.2 points per game.


If all that weren't enough, Nlandu also volunteers in the community with his fellow Catamounts.


Nlandu and the team begin each week by serving food on Sundays at the Community Table. The Community Table is a local soup kitchen in Sylvia, N.C.


"We cook the food and just serve people who want to eat," Nlandu said. "We kind of play waitress and get them what they want. We see how fortunate we are to go to school, and most of these people didn't get to, and (we see) how fortunate we are to have a meal everyday."


But the cleanup isn't always as fun, Nlandu joked.


"We just don't like washing the dishes afterwards," he said. "We usually like to get the freshmen to do it."


The midweek brings Nlandu and his teammates to Fairview Elementary School where they spend time helping the kids with homework, readying and serving as mentors. At 6-foot-7, the kids are literally looking up to Nlandu.


"We get assigned a couple of kids, and we read them books, ask them questions about it, correct their homework and help them with their problems," he said. "The kids come to our games. Everyday they're amazed by my size. I get asked to dunk basketballs a lot."


Born in the Zaire, Nlandu's family moved to Montreal when he was 5. When he graduates in May, Nlandu hopes to remain in North Carolina to continue with his projects and perhaps pursue the NBA.


"I'm excited about graduating," he said. "But I definitely have some decisions to make in May."



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