By Brea Hill
From the outside looking in, you’d never know that Biska Biyombo’s journey to becoming one of VCU’s standout soccer players was not an easy one. A 6-foot-2 forward, Biyombo is affable and charismatic. His personality has a knack for setting those around him at ease. There’s little evidence of the weight of the injury that cost him nearly all of last season.
It’s about perspective. Biyombo’s endured more trials and tribulations in his life than injuries can provide. He’s endured and has emerged with a bright view of the future. But it wasn’t easy.
Biyombo is a native of Lubumbashi, the largest city in the Democratic Republic of Congo (D.R.C.), where there were daily challenges. Jobs were scarce in Lubumbashi, and Biyombo says his family – Biyombo has three brothers and three sisters - struggled to make ends meet. Biyombo was forced to skip meals. Sometimes he ate just once a day. He walked 45 minutes to school and owned a single pair of shoes for the year.
Growing up in D.R.C. taught Biyombo many life lessons. While he remembers his childhood as fun, his life in Congo was nothing like it is today.
Like in most places around the globe, soccer is massively popular in D.R.C. But Biyombo’s introduction to soccer was met with challenges. He didn’t own cleats and says he and his friends were often forced to play barefoot, and in substandard facilities.
“Everybody when you’re a kid you just want to play around with the ball,” Biyombo said, “You don’t really see a lot about basketball or American football. I learned what American football was when I got here in the U.S.”
But six years ago, Biyombo saw a world of opportunity begin to open up. In 2012, Biska’s older brother, Bismack, was selected in the first round of the NBA Draft by the Sacramento Kings. As Bismack’s NBA career blossomed, he began to help his siblings, including Biska, emigrate to the United States.
Biska says his brother’s budding professional career changed the way he viewed his own athletic career. Soccer was no longer just a recreational activity.
“Since he made it, he can be my role model, and I can look up to him, and I always do now in practice and in the games to be able to make it to the next level.” Biyombo said.
Biska would eventually find his way to Montverde Academy, a private boarding school in Florida. All six of Biska’s siblings now live in the United States.
Biska says his relationship with Bismack is a strong one, and his older brother has often been an inspiration to him. Biska’s parents chose to remain in D.R.C., so Bismack’s outsized influence on his siblings earned him the nickname “dad”. His NBA career has provided him with the means to ensure his siblings can pursue opportunities in the United States. Biska says his brother has inspired him throughout his soccer career and still serves as a mentor.
“He’s always going to call me when he watches the game replays and tell me one thing I can improve on since he already knows how the professional life works,” Biska said, “It’s actually good for me to learn and know what I can do to improve as a player and as a person on and off the field. From him, I’ve learned a lot even if we don’t play the same sport, he’s actually been my biggest inspiration of me to be able to make it to the next level the way I’ve watched him work hard to get to the position that he is in and that has been my biggest inspiration to get to where I am.”
Biska signed with Trinidad State Junior College in Denver, Colo. out of high school and piled up 38 goals in just two seasons. But it wasn’t just his outstanding play on the pitch that caught the eye of VCU Head Coach Dave Giffard.
“Biska has a really infectious smile and personality that I think he’s one of those guys where whether you’re a teammate, coach, classmate, or administrator, or even just friends, if you interact with him it’s hard not to smile,” Giffard said, “He has that charismatic vibe or charisma about him that causes other people to want to be around him. My six-year-old loves him. He’s just a good person, with a kind of bigger than life personality.”
But Biyombo’s transition to the Division I level wasn’t without challenges. Last season he missed all but five matches due to a torn meniscus.
“When I got injured I thought it would be my end, and I was scared,” He said. “I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to react when I found out. A little tears came down, but Coach Giffard called me and told me that things happen for a reason.”
It was a learning process for Biyombo. The toughest thing, mentally, was having to sit the year out. Having to miss practice after practice and game after game took a toll on Biyombo, but he says he refused to feel bad for himself.
“Coach called my brother’s agency and explained to them the situation, and my brother called me and explained to me [that] things happen. That’s why we play sports, but just stay positive, everything is going to go perfect. If you keep stressing about it, a lot of stuff is not going to go well.”
A year removed from his injury, Biyombo is healthy and thriving for the Rams. Through 11 matches, Biyombo has scored four goals and has recorded a team-high 11 points. On Oct. 5, Biyombo scored both VCU goals, including the game-winner, in the 108th minute to give the Rams a 2-1 win over Davidson.
Looking back, Biyombo says his injury was a learning experience.
“I was actually happy that happened, and I stayed positive my whole way through to my recovery, and now I’m actually excited to get back on the field and play,” he says. “I’m ready. I’ve been waiting for this since I got off crutches. I’ve been ready since before summer and everything I’ve done, I’m ready to play I’m ready to compete.”
As his brother Bismack would say, Biyombo knows he cannot fail. Failing means returning back to life in D.R.C. Soccer is his way out and to never go back was to succeed. His obstacles throughout childhood provided extra motivation on the field. Biska says will keep that mindset all the way up until he makes it to the pros.
You can count Giffard among those who believe Biyombo’s best days are ahead of him.
“The qualities that our staff saw with Biska and the tools that he has, I think that was a challenge that we were excited about going through that journey with him to get to where he wants to go,” Giffard said, “Sooner or later we all felt like there was a player there that could help the team and could eventually be impactful in the top end of the college game.”