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Belgium product Alan Kikwaki finds a home with Dakota Wesleyan men's basketball

After playing two years of junior college and transferring from Southeastern Oklahoma State University, Kikwaki has found his footing with Dakota Wesleyan as he averages 6.5 points, 3.3 rebounds and shoots 48 percent from the field in his 13 games played this season.

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Dakota Wesleyan University's Alan Kikwaki knocks down a 3-pointer over Hastings College's Phil Cisrow during a Great Plains Athletic Conference men's basketball game on Friday, Dec. 3 at the Corn Palace. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Matt Gade
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From two years of junior college basketball and sleeping on the floor in his former teammates house, Dakota Wesleyan University’s men’s basketball player Alan Kikwaki may have finally found his home for college basketball with the Tigers.

Born and raised in Brussels, Belgium, Kikwaki has always had the dream of playing basketball in the United States at the professional level.

After transferring from Southeastern Oklahoma State University in Durant, Oklahoma, Kikwaki is now in the starting lineup for DWU, playing what he believes is his best stretch of basketball and in a great situation especially compared from where he was a few years ago.

“I started the season as a relief coming off the bench, but I had a stretch of a couple of games where I started to find my role with the team,” Kikwaki said. “The team needs me to rebound more and I know that, and on the defensive end, I think I can have more of an impact. … In my dreams, the best that I could do here is bring this team more than what they offered me. That would be one of my ways of thanking (coach Matt) Wilber for the opportunity of me being here.”

Kikwaki, a 6-foot-8 junior wing, has played in 13 games for DWU, started three of them, averaging 18 minutes a night. He's averaging 6.5 points per game, shooting nearly 48 percent from the field, 35 percent from 3-point territory and has scored in double-figures in five games this season.

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“He’s been a really good addition to us and he’s such a good kid,” Wilber said. “I love having him around all the time. … When you talk about transfers, it usually takes half a year until they are really comfortable with everything. Then with him being from Brussels, now in South Dakota, it just adds to how much an adjustment it really is.”

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Dakota Wesleyan University's Alan Kikwaki drives to the basket on Hastings College's Mathias Nchekwube during a Great Plains Athletic Conference game on Friday, Dec. 3 at the Corn Palace. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Matt Gade

Kikwaki began playing basketball at the age of 10 years old. As he entered high school, Kikwaki attended a club called United Basket Woluwe. During his time at United Basket Woluwe, he met Fred Young, who would become a key mentor. Young was born and raised in the U.S. and is currently a basketball trainer in Brussels that helps high school athletes take their talents to the United States to play at the college level.

Kikwaki worked with Young every summer in a two-week program that not only helped him on the court, but also put Kikwaki and other high school athletes through work study programs to prepare them for the college experience of playing a sport and juggling the academic workload at the same time.

At 6-foot-2, 170 pounds, Kikwaki averaged 15.5 points, four rebounds and three assists in his final season with United Basket Woluwe. After graduating, Young convinced Kikwaki that his best chance of reaching the professional basketball level was to redshirt and be a walk-on at a junior college program. After careful consideration, Kikwaki decided to attend Iowa Lakes Community College in Emmetsburg, Iowa in January 2018.

In his first ever trip to the U.S., Kikwaki landed at Minneapolis−Saint Paul International Airport and was overcome with excitement about finally being where he always dreamed of.

“I was so excited about just being in the United States and playing basketball that I never really concerned myself with any negative factors,” Kikwaki said. “I knew everything was big and I wasn’t used to the cold, but you just dream of stuff like this. I just prayed for the opportunity to play in the U.S. so it's really different and I’m glad I’m here.”

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Excelling in junior college

As Kikwaki redshirted during the second college semester in 2018, he practiced with the team and did his own workouts after games to stay ready for his opportunity. By May, Kikwaki was offered a full-ride scholarship to play with the Lakers for the next two years.

Throughout that 2019-20 season, Kikwaki grew five inches and averaged 9.6 points and 5.1 rebounds in 20 minutes per game as he helped the Lakers reach a 26-6 record. During that season, Kikwaki earned Iowa Community College Athletic Conference Player of the Week honors and had a 27-point game during the season

In the midst of one of his best college basketball seasons, Kikwaki was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. After notching 15 points and 11 rebounds in his final game with Iowa Lakes, Kikwaki had to track down his next college basketball destination by himself.

“Once the pandemic hit, I had to do my recruitment by myself,” Kikwaki said. “It wasn’t my coach's fault at all because no one was used to that, but it was a learning experience. I didn’t go back home, I just stayed in Des Moines, Iowa and slept on the floor at one of my friend’s houses. I knew I had to stay in the U.S. for a chance to play next year because at the time I wasn’t committed anywhere and I wasn’t certain if I could make it back to the U.S. if I went home.”

Kikwaki slept on the floor at friend and former teammate Lim Chuol’s house during that summer. Kikwaki played with Chuol during the 2018-19 season at Iowa Lakes. After receiving offers from NAIA’s Huntington University, Division II’s Salem University and other programs, on May 29, 2020, Kikwaki decided to sign on to play at Southeastern Oklahoma State University.

Finding DWU basketball

At Southeastern Oklahoma State, Kikwaki never got the opportunity he had hoped for as he only played 4.7 minutes per game in a total 10 games played during the 2020-21 season. After the season, Kikwaki moved in with the only family member he had in the country, moving to Dallas, Texas, to live with an uncle during the summer of 2021. He trained three times a day, looking for his next college basketball opportunity.

He did his own recruiting again, which consisted of him calling schools and former coaches, looking for any possible connections. He reached out to his former head coach Troy Larson from Iowa Lakes, who told Kikwaki he would recommend him to Wilber, who was a former colleague. Larson and Wilber worked together from 2004-2006 on the South Dakota State University coaching staff as assistant coaches.

“As soon as coach Wilber knew I was available, he contacted me and after the first call, he told me they had a scholarship open for me,” Kikwaki said. “The fact that he really wanted me from the first call meant a lot. Also my junior college coach, that I trust, trusts Wilber so that made me feel secure in my choice. … It meant so much to me that he liked me for who I was as a person before even stepping on the court.”

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Dakota Wesleyan University's Alan Kikwaki snatches a rebound over Hastings College's Phil Cisrow during a Great Plains Athletic Conference men's basketball game on Friday, Dec. 3 at the Corn Palace. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Matt Gade

With six seniors already on DWU’s roster, Kikwaki was unsure of the amount of playing time he would get with the Tigers. In Kikwaki’s talk with Wilber, no amount of playing time was promised but Wilber told Kikwaki that when he brings in a transfer, it’s to have a big role on the team.

After completing the November road trip and changing its lineup four separate times, DWU has inserted Kikwaki into the starting lineup. In his first start, Dakota Wesleyan made its season-high 12 3-pointers and Kikwaki was leading the charge going 4-of-6 from 3-point range in the first half. As Kikwaki shoots 35 percent from the 3-point line this season, Wilber said Kikwaki makes the team much better when he’s hitting shots.

“He’s had some really good games for us and he’s so coachable that everything I throw at him, he’s working on it as best as he can,” Wilber said. "When he’s making some shots for us, we’re tougher to guard and it’s easy to coach when you have guys like Alan. He's competitive and receptive and he just works so hard. He's a guy we want around.”

Branden is a sports reporter that graduated from Purdue University Northwest with a bachelor's degree in communications and a focus in journalism. He joined the Mitchell Republic in June 2021 and covers prep and collegiate athletics. He was also the lead on the Mitchell Republic Full-Court Press, providing a weekly web-exclusive look at high school basketball throughout all of South Dakota. Branden can be reached at bhull@mitchellrepublic.com and found on Twitter at @bhullreports.
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