Alexis Wangmene Returns to Texas Re-Energized After Summer in Africa
It was there during a three-week trip with his adopted family that Wangmene was able to gain even more perspective about where he is and what he wants from his basketball career going forward. Being home has that effect on Wangmene.
"First of all, I realized that I needed to be grateful for what I have and really what I needed to do in this lifetime to help other people who don't have the chance that I have," Wangmene said to FanHouse recently.
"I realized how much I love the game and how much I can help people through this game because I have a lot of kids back home looking up to me and trying to see me as an example. They ask me questions every time I go back and for me it's a reflection of who I want to become and where I can make an impact in this role. It was real interesting and it made me appreciate what I've got."
His time in South Africa was especially helpful. It was there he was able to reconnect with friends and family and reconnect with his love for the game. Being a part of the NBA's Basketball Without Borders outreach program in Johannesburg was how Wangmene first came in contact with San Antonio Spurs general manager R.C. Buford, who brought him to the United States in 2004 to become part of his family.
South Africa has come to symbolize a certain tranquility in Wangmene's life. He divided his time at home working on his game, relaxing and continuing to strive to give back to his native people in any way possible.
"South Africa is just like home, it's the Motherland, it's the land where I feel most at peace and that I have most of my family and most of friends," said Wangmene, who has began raising funds to reopen a library that has been closed in Maroua for the last 10 years so young kids can have a place to come for books, computers and learning. "It's just relaxing knowing everybody back home has the support and it's the territory that I go and get my resurgence to come back and recover and improve my game. It's just a refuel of energy for me to go back there."
Perhaps more than any `other time, Wangmene needed his voyage back after a couple frustrating seasons at Texas. The 6-foot-7 power forward missed all but four games with a knee injury during his sophomore season (for which he received a medical redshirt). And then last season, things started out great but Wangmene's minutes quickly fell off as he struggled to stay on task and Rick Barnes relied more on Damion James, Dexter Pittman and Gary Johnson to do the inside work.
A naturally upbeat guy, Wangmene's body language on the sidelines last season suggested that frustration had set in as his minutes dwindled.
"Of course it has been challenging," he said. "When you are playing with a group of great players, it's not going to be easy. Sometimes you get frustrated, but the thing that gets you going is because you love the game. You can be frustrated with the time and the coaches and all that, but it really didn't affect my love for the game. It only got me better.
"The only thing you can take from this situation is to learn and wait your turn because you are going to get it. You are going to get your turn and you just have to be ready to embrace the turn and the good things with it."
But ultimately, Wangmene places the blame for his diminished minutes and even the plight of the Longhorns, who went from being ranked No.1 in the country to out of the Top 25 in a matter of weeks, on his shoulders.
"I took the blame for what happened last year because I feel like if I had played with so much confidence, (things might have been different)," he said. "If I had more desire to be on the floor every day, I could have made that happen, but I kind of let my head hang down at the points when I was frustrated."
UT assistant coach Russ Springmann, who recruited Wangmene and remains close with him, saw Wangmene grow more frustrated as the season progressed. He also saw a change in Wangmene as the season came to a close.
"As for any competitor, that is always a challenge having your minutes reduced and continuing to fight through that," Springmann said. "But I do believe that's what he did. He finished the season confident in himself and knowing if he continues to work hard, he is going to create a larger opportunity for himself."
That has been what this offseason has been about for Wangmene. Known for his defensive versatility and rebounding, Wangmene has rededicated himself to the game and to his team. He has worked hard on defense and rebounding and has even developed a turnaround hook shot for his offensive repertoire.
With James and Pittman gone, there are more minutes out there in the post this season. But Wangmene will have to make a strong case for himself with talented freshman Tristan Thompson expected to step in as a starter right away with Johnson now going from reserve to starter at the power forward spot.
"The one thing I know for sure, I've got to bring a little energy on the squad," Wangmene said. "I know there are some minutes out there so I've just to go and get it and play harder than before and just go out there and do my job, rebound and run the floor. I have to do the best I can to help the team.
"I'm really looking forward to having more time to express myself and just do what I do best."
And he isn't shy about extending that hope to possibly starting for the first time in his career, despite the expectations that Thompson and Johnson will be the starters inside for the Longhorns this season.
"I would really love to start," Wangmene said. "I've been working really hard since I came back from my trip. It would be great if I start. I just want to make an impact and this time I am not going to settle. I am going to go after it and make a huge improvement and a big impact in this program and be better than I can be."
It could be interesting because the Longhorns will have the ability to play small and run the floor with a three-guard lineup that could include highly touted freshman Cory Joseph running the point with Jordan Hamilton and J'Covan Brown on the wings.
Wangmene believes he can fit in whether the Longhorns go big or small.
"Right now, we might be looking at the small team but I really like playing with those guys, like (J'Covan Brown) and (Gary Johnson) and Jai Lucas (reserve point guard)," he said. "So it's going to be a fun time. We are a great group of kids who like to have fun together. I think it will an easy transition for us to adjust and everybody is real excited. I think everybody we have on the squad right now is very tough minded and likes to play hard. That's the thing we need right now is to have this transition going on."