Charumbira’s Panda-like charm makes Italian basketball waves

12 May, 2024 - 00:05 0 Views
Charumbira’s Panda-like charm makes Italian basketball waves COME AND GET ME . . . Italy-based international Panashe “Panda” Charumbira has revealed that he is open to representing Zimbabwe should need arise

The Sunday Mail

Tinashe Kusema

PANASHE CHARUMBIRA is the Zimbabwean Panda or just Panda for short.

What began as a high school nickname gained popularity once the song “Panda” by American rapper Desiigner was released in 2016.

Now, the Zimbabwean basketball star might as well walk onto the basketball court with a black and white bear costume, as everyone, from his teammates in Italy C League outfit ASD Capo and their fans, right up to his mother, now refer to him as “Panda”.

“Panda is the name people know me by, and very few actually know that my name is Panashe,” said Charumbira. “Its origin is actually a funny story, and it began as one of those funny nicknames one gives themselves at high school.

“Once the song by American rapper Desiigner hit the market, the name kind of stuck and even escalated as my coaches, teammates and even my mother started calling me that.”

Panda was trending in basketball circles last weekend as Charumbira became the latest basketball star to raise the country’s flag internationally.

He  helped his Italian basketball club ASD Capo secure promotion into the Italy C League, a feat that came hot on the heels of Vitalis Chikoko’s historic back-to-back Most Valuable Player crown in France.

Coincidentally, he considers Chikoko an idol.

“Yeah, before I was exposed to the NBA, FIBA and any of the European leagues, I was a huge fan of Vitalis Chikoko and Risto (Everisto Pasipamire) and all the things they were doing for Zimbabwe basketball,” he said.

“Risto was at school at Wits University and always found time to come back and play for the national team. I even wanted to attend Wits University just so that I could follow in his footsteps.

“Vitah (Chikoko) did the same when he was in Germany, Italy and now France, always putting their country first. It is something I am looking forward to doing should the union (Basketball Union of Zimbabwe) call on me one day.”

It was later in life, as an adult, that Charumbira started watching more international basketball, and got exposed to the Italian league.

He then added the duo of Phoenix Suns’ Kevin Durant and Miami Heat’s Jimmy Butler to his list of idols.

Their skills and work ethic are what he admires most.

Charumbira turns 24 today and as he enters the year of Jupiter’s return, the Zimbabwean power forward is likely to take a second and reflect on his blossoming career.

Born on May 12, 2000, Charumbira has a peculiar story in basketball.

“I was not really a sportsperson, but it was not due to a lack of trying,” he said. “After trying my hand at volleyball and handball, I found out that the two were not for me. I then decided to play the role of spectator for a couple of friends of mine at school (Chemhanza High), who would play basketball.

“I would wait for them as they either trained or simply played social basketball, and this happened for something like a year. The coach at Chemhanza, I can’t really remember his name, then invited me to come and try the sport and everything just clicked for me afterwards.”

His basketball playing prowess saw him turn out for Mashonaland East. He then moved to Prince Edward School for his Advanced Level.

He would soon appear on the radar of local basketball coach Kelvin Ben and his Foxes team.

“If I am to name one person who really helped launch my basketball career, then that would be coach Ben,” said the 24-year-old. “I joined Foxes, but hardly played a game for the first couple of months.

“I did, however, learn a lot on the fundamentals and appreciation of the sport.”

Charumbira later moved to Italy to pursue his education, studying data analysis. He then started knocking on doors, looking for a basketball team to play for.

The first to answer was Basket School Messina, an Italian Serie B Interregionale outfit, but Charumbira only played 10 games for the club and averaged 17 points for the team.

His performances during those games then went on to put him on ASD Capo’s radar.

He joined the club mid-season, during the 2023/2024 term, and initially found it hard to acclimatise to their system.

He did feature in the last eight games and became an instant hit, averaging over 12 points and with a season high of 17 points.

“When I moved to ASD Capo, I think they were ranked fourth on the eight-team log table,” he said. “They already had a working system and good players, so adjusting took some time.

“I am a big man and they were not used to playing the big man so much . . .The team is more of a shooting team but with time, they began to adjust and use me a lot more and a lot better.

“Now, the goal is to work on my game during the offseason and try to come up with a better balance between school and basketball during the 2024/2025 season.”

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