Masengo Mutanda may be the best player in Minnesota that few people know about – at least not the college coaches she really needs to impress. The dynamic point guard from Robbinsdale Armstrong hopes that will change over the next year as she recovers from yet another injury and tries to make a name for herself. Mutanda has missed about 20 high school games over the past three seasons but, more importantly, she has played almost no AAU ball thanks to major knee and ankle injuries. Mutanda knows 2018 is an important year. “Right now I'm not really sure what schools are interested in me or where I would go because I missed so much basketball,” said Mutanda, who most everyone calls 'Mango.' “It has been kind of hard for colleges to come see me play. Now that I'm back I'm going to do my best to get seen.”
Although her team absorbed a thrashing by Prior Lake January 15th at the Minnesota Fury MLK Day Classic at St. Kate's, Mutanda made a good impression, scoring 22 of her team's 31 points. The tournament is staged by the Fury to showcase some of the AAU club's top players. Mutanda used the opportunity to be seen by D1 coaches from South Dakota, South Dakota State, North Dakota State, the University of Washington and others. Mango looked as quick as ever, and that is her calling card. “I was always taught to go to the basket, especially because of my speed,” she said. “I have a pretty quick first step so I try to use that to my advantage. That's mainly my game.”
Mutanda's medical odyssey began with what she thought was a sprained ankle during her freshman year. She played through the pain but discovered at the start of AAU season that it was fractured and required surgery. She returned in December and led Armstrong to a 15-12 record while averaging nearly 21 points per game. At the beginning of the 2017 AAU season, Mutanda suffered a serious knee injury that kept her out most of the summer. On opening night of this year's high school season, Mango hurt her ankle again in warmups.
Mutanda's return means the world to Antiwan Easley, the Armstrong head coach. “She is one of the best players to ever put on a Falcon uniform,” he said. “Obviously, we missed her scoring when she was out, but we also missed her energy and competitive spirit. She forces everyone to step up their game and play at a high level… She is so competitive. She loves to joke and play around with her teammates, but when it's time to play she is all business, and she is constantly pushing and challenging teammates to get better.”
Mutanda's ability to change speeds can be hellish for defenders. One-on-one she will hesitate for a split second, pausing just long enough to create some separation and sow a few seeds of doubt in her opponent's mind. That's when her incredible first step kicks into gear. Next thing you know Mutanda is scoring at the rim and the bewildered defender is left searching for her shoes. Even though opponents know Mutanda is going to do it, they still can't defend it. The question is, can she do it now like she did it before? So far so good.
Mutanda returned to the lineup on January 3rd, putting up 32 points on Tartan. Since then, she has scored 8, 35, 19, 19, 22 and 38. More importantly, Armstrong has won three games after starting the season 0-7. It's not just her offense that has had an impact. Mutanda is an intense defender, who usually draws the assignment of shadowing the other team's best guard. Her intensity inspires her teammates – key players such as juniors Jordan Bloom and Tiahna James – to raise their intensity, too. At 3-11, there is still a long way to go for Armstrong but things are looking up.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about it is the fact that Armstrong is also without its best-known player, forward Carly Krsul, who has missed five of the past six games with a hand injury. The Fury stalwart, who is a top 15 player in the 2019 class, is one of the main attractions the MLK event was designed to show off. Krsul has length and tenacity. Her rebounding and offensive versatility are a handful for opponents, and she and Mutanda have great synergy.
Mutanda, who was born in the Congo before immigrating to the U.S. as a young child, is also pushing herself to get better. She is a gym rat who doesn't need any prodding to spend extra time on the court. Most of her work is focused on shooting. “I have a pretty good shot right now, but I don't really use it as much as I could because I prefer driving,” she said. “I want to become more consistent. I feel like that will complete me as a player.
Mutanda is still looking for an AAU team for 2018, after being with the NC Heat/Tayler Hill Elite program since she was discovered playing park and rec ball in Crystal as a third grader. It shouldn't be that difficult given that she is top 5 in the class. “I just need to find the right team where I fit in,” Mutanda said. “I need to be on a team that will take me places and help me get exposure.”