Resourcefulness, Relationships Fuel Karangwa’s Rise

by Lauren Rosen

Prosper Karangwa has a finely tuned eye for the game of basketball.

The 76ers' new Vice President of Player Personnel is also the type of guy you’d want to be friends with.

Just take it from Orlando Magic Assistant General Manager Matt Lloyd, with whom Karangwa worked the last eight years:

“I could not be more excited for [Prosper’s move to Philadelphia] professionally, but I just miss the guy, because he’s my friend!”

In Orlando, Karangwa’s office was down the hall from Lloyd’s. Lloyd wishes they’d been next door.

“I was really lucky to work with [Prosper] for eight years,” Lloyd said. “He’s a natural relationship-builder. People can’t help but like him.”

For Karangwa, basketball and human connection have always gone hand in hand.

Originally from Rwanda, he moved to Montreal with his family at nine years old. As a kid in Canada, a young Karangwa used basketball as a means to find friendship.

“I picked up basketball because it was the only way I could make friends,” Karangwa remembers. “Everyone in the neighborhood played. I was a skinny, scrawny kid that was looking for friends, and they all played hoops, so I started playing.”

Thanks to a growth spurt at 15, Karangwa’s newfound hobby became more serious. He started traveling to the U.S. for AAU competition, taking weekly 10-plus hour Greyhound bus rides to face elite competition.

Over time, Karangwa began garnering interest from college scouts.

One of the up-and-comers he faced? Sixers’ General Manager Elton Brand.

Karangwa remembers it well.

“They smacked us. It was a Riverside Church team that was stacked. [Elton] was so good. He destroyed us on his way to Duke.”

Did Brand remember?

“Of course not!” Karangwa said with a laugh. “He did not remember at all. I think they were undefeated that year - they were the best team.”

It’s safe to say Brand knows exactly who Karangwa is today, and then some.

“When Elton called, it was kind of shocking at first, and unexpected in some ways, because we were so far along in the season and the draft process,” Karangwa said of his interview with the Sixers. 

“It wasn’t an easy decision, but the opportunity to grow, see something different… and Elton’s reputation speaks for itself. We had a great conversation. He was easy to trust and easy to get along with.”

Brand returned the praise:

“I'd been familiar with him for a few years now, and when we had the opportunity to bring him aboard, it was a no-brainer," Brand said. "When it comes to player evaluation, Prosper's one of the best in the league.”

But Karangwa’s path from Brand’s AAU opponent to front office colleague wasn’t linear.

It took hustle, persistence, and a keen mind for the game.

After playing NCAA basketball for four years at Siena College, Karangwa played eight years of pro ball overseas. Upon his retirement in 2010, he knew he wanted to stay in the game.

So while the NBA faced the 2011 lockout, Karangwa began attending games alongside Rob Jackson, one of Karangwa’s former coaches at Siena who had since moved on to become a scout for the San Antonio Spurs.

Jackson was the one who encouraged Karangwa to pursue scouting.

But without any professional experience evaluating prospects, Karangwa was forced to chart his own path.

“I ended up starting my own scouting service - that was an interesting journey,” Karangwa said. “No NBA team [was] going to hire me, so I’m just going to do my own thing, and run a successful business.

“I loved the challenge of it.”

Karangwa quickly found his space in the marketplace, connecting European teams with American prospects.

“There was a hole for scouting in Europe. Most of them don’t have the budget to scout in the U.S.,” Karangwa explained. “A lot of the European teams were making bad decisions simply because they were misinformed.”

Karangwa’s knowledge of the international prospect landscape quickly became one of his greatest assets. Just a year into his independent business venture, he made the connections necessary to land his first NBA job with the Magic.

“When we met with Prosper, it was super easy to see that he was going to be an incredibly diligent guy, and he had such a great personality,” Lloyd said of Karangwa’s first interview with Orlando.

“He had pre-existing contacts throughout college basketball and throughout the international scene. It was a no-brainer.”

So Karangwa and his intimate understanding of the international landscape found a home in Orlando.

“I’ve always told people,'Canada’s coming,'” Karangwa said. “Not just Toronto, also Montreal. The same goes for Africa. That part of the world is filled with talent.”

A fitting introduction to Karangwa’s relationship with a certain Cameroonian All-Star.

Joel Embiid and Karangwa both maintain a longstanding connection to the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders program, where the pair began their relationship.

“We got to hang out,” Karangwa said. “[Joel] used to tease me about working for the Magic, and going after Vuc (Nikola Vucevic).

“I don’t have to hear that anymore!” Karangwa said with a smile.

Brand and Embiid are just two of the many deep connections Karangwa has made around the league. His time in Orlando also overlapped with Tobias Harris' stint there.

“Being in this role now allows me to tap into different connections and contacts across the world to help me in my role,” Karangwa said. “I think that’s the biggest value.”

Karangwa’s ties are sure to help inform the Sixers’ front office decisions. He says he’s ready to lend a hand however he can in pursuit of the team’s ultimate goal of winning it all.

“To make it really simple, my role is to help the organization build the best roster possible. That includes pro personnel, it includes college scouting, it includes the G League. That’s where my effort is going to be - to help Daryl, and Elton, and Doc put together the best possible roster to lead us to a championship.”

"It's already been great these last few weeks to add Prosper’s perspective to our front office,” Brand said. “He's going to be key for us for a long time."

With the NBA Draft just around the corner, Karangwa and the Sixers' new-look front office are operating with open minds.

“Everyone is excited and willing to listen to the other person, willing to learn from the other person, and willing to challenge the other person.”

Karangwa is eager to bring his perspective to contribute.

“One piece of advice a coach gave me when I was 18 years old: Treat everyone the way you want to be treated, because anyone you meet, at any given time, can have a role in your success or your failures,” Karangwa said.

Karangwa’s basketball journey began as a kid in Montreal, looking to build relationships. A few trips around the world and thousands of dribbles later, he’s still building them, now in the Sixers’ front office.

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