What you need to know:
- Preston, who carries athletic genes from both his parents was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico where he lived for 18 years before moving to Virginia State to pursue his college education
- Just like his father, Preston grew up running cross country and track and field
- However he stopped running track and field after the eighth grade and cross country in grade 11 to focus more on basketball
While the rest of the world was obsessing with the rise of the internet, personal computers, and ridiculously oversized jeans in the 1990s, a Kenyan athlete, the late James Bungei, 21, was a freshman at Lubbock Christian University in the United States of America.
Bungei, who was from Kapsabet in Nandi County, had moved to the university in Texas on an athletics scholarship.
He dominated the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NCAA) championships in the 90s while representing the Lubbock team that was undefeated in the country.
Four years into his stay at Lubbock, Bungei met the love of his life, Christy Dafter, who was also a track and field athlete at the time. In 1995, they started a family and got their firstborn son Preston.
Twenty-five years later after Bungei’s immaculate glory in cross country competitions in the US, Preston was introduced to basketball fans during the first round of the Fiba AfroBasket Qualifiers in which the national men’s basketball team Morans made their return to the continental competition after a 27-year hiatus.
This means that the last time Kenya featured in the competition, Preston, whose name was highly featured in this year’s AfroBasket qualifiers in Kigali, Rwanda, last month had not yet been born.
In a thrilling three-day showdown of Group B where Kenya were placed against Senegal, Angola and Mozambique, Morans got narrow success in the first round after beating Mozambique 79-62 in their final match to qualify for the final round. Preston watched the competition from the sidelines.
His absence from the court was felt. World governing body Fiba’s rules prevented Preston from playing because he did not have a permanent Kenyan passport.
First visit to Kenya
“Initially it was a disappointment. You think back about all the preparations and time that you put in to get ready for the games and then suddenly you’re not able to play. After the initial disappointment, I focused my efforts on helping the team by cheering them on from the bench,” said Preston.
This gave him an outside look at the matches, and he saw how he would help during the next level of the qualifiers next year.
“After watching and re-watching the games, I believe that a lot of the mistakes we made are fixable. These are things we can work on in training before competition in February. If we limit our opponents’ transition baskets, we will put ourselves in a good position to win. Obviously we can’t ignore Senegal and Angola, being record champions of the tournament, but if we work on our formation we might just be able to catch up,” said Preston.
“Moreover, without fans because of coronavirus restrictions, you have to bring your own energy and hype yourselves up. It’s definitely a strange experience but it’s the new normal for now. Since I wasn’t playing, I was happy to be the loudest person in the gym cheering on the guys.”
The forward player who currently plays for the Spartans Senior team at Norfolk State University in the US had dreams of honouring his father by playing for Kenya. Preston’s father passed away in 2011.
“I remember him as a dad who always wanted the best for me and pushed me to the best that I could be. He taught me a lot of lessons about what it means to grow up and be a man, which I didn’t understand at the time. I also remember him as a very outgoing person who lit up the room with his laugh and smile. He could get along with anyone and always had Kenya at heart and that’s how I want to be,” he added.
Travelling is one of Preston’s hobbies. The continental competition gave him an opportunity to come to Kenya for the first time and meet his father’s side of the family, understand the culture and learn more about his origin.
“I found out that I have 16 cousins and that is awesome,” he captioned a photo in an Instagram post in which he is carrying one of his cousins after visiting Kapsabet for the first time last month.
The forward player, who is six feet, six inches tall, with light skin and an American accent told Nation Sport that his identity has always been in question. Nonetheless, he stands with his values, loyalty and integrity.
“Being half black and half white is always so funny to me because when I am in America I’m looked at as black and when I’m here in Kenya people refer to me as ‘Mzungu’ but I try not to pay attention to that because I know who I am. My identity is in family and those who know me,” he said.
Preston, who carries athletic genes from both his parents was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico where he lived for 18 years before moving to Virginia State to pursue his college education. He credits New Mexico for building his love and passion for basketball.
“My maternal grandfather played basketball when he was in college at Kansas University and even my aunts and uncles played the game as well, so naturally my parents signed me up when I was five-years-old in a little county local league and ever since then I’ve just loved basketball,” he said.
The Cibola High School and Trinidad State Junior college alumnus has two half-sisters Carly and Grace. Preston was raised by a single parent, his mum, who is a holistic medical doctor.
Just like his father, Preston grew up running cross country and track and field. However he stopped running track and field after the eighth grade and cross country in grade 11 to focus more on basketball.
NBA legend the late Kobe Bryant was Preston’s inspiration. Although he has not yet won any championships, Preston has featured in ground-breaking tournaments that have shaped his career including the Paradise Jam in 2016 held annually in the US’ Virgin Islands, the Sun Bowl in El Paso Texas in 2015 where his team was second.
Preston has played for Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) every year since joining college in 2018. Those who win in the MEAC contest qualify to play in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) tournament also known as March Madness.
Preston also had a short stint in Bosnia and Herzegovina in their 2019/20 season and was named Defensive Player of the Year in March this year.
Preston said he cannot pinpoint any high moments in his career yet since he hasn’t won any championships, but said that playing for Morans is definitely a step in the right direction. He admires Denmark-based Kenyan player Tylor Okari who was the top scorer for Kenya with 22 points in the game against Mozambique.
“He’s a professional, he works hard, and he just comes in and gets the job done, he’s someone all of us to look up to,” he said.
Like for most upcoming athletes, setbacks are part and parcel of the journey to greatness, and Preston is not an exception.
“My lowest moment was tearing the UCL ligament in my elbow during my senior season of college. I had to undergo surgery and I missed the whole season. I also had to do seven months of rehab. Before that, I’d never missed a game in college in my senior season so that was tough,” he said.
After being honoured as the Defensive Player of the Year, Preston started a programme aimed at helping needy talented children with tips to help them get athletic scholarships.
“I started it because I was very naive when I was in high school in regards to how hard it is to get an athletic scholarship. I didn’t have anyone to guide me in the process. Therefore, I came up with the programme to try and provide help to those who need it. I hope to do something on a larger scale in future,” he said.
“Although it’s still small right now the feedback that I’ve received is positive. I’m hoping down the road I can do more and maybe create an actual scholarship which helps children financially but you have to take things one step at a time.”
In the next three to five years Preston aims at playing in the National Basketball League which is the top-tier in Australia.
“I want to play out the rest of my career there and be able to be with my wife and her family there,” he said.
His hope is that more Kenyan players become internationally based so that the national team has hopes of being one of the best teams in the continent, thereby, putting Kenya on the map.