FEATURE Boumtje-Boumtje Adjusts to Life in the NBA Former Georgetown Star Deals With Rookie Initiations, New Teammates By Joe Kielbowicz Special to The Hoya

Charles Nailen/The Hoya Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje in his final days on the Hilltop.

“What’s your favorite part of playing in the NBA?” a timid middle-schooler asks the seven-foot tall NBA center standing before him.

“I like to pick up Scottie Pippen’s laundry at the dry cleaners,” the Blazers’ newest team member, Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje (COL ’01) answers. For a moment he stands there, glib-faced, as his massive frame towers above his wide-eyed audience. The middle-schoolers sitting in the gym stare back at him, now equally quiet. Some fidget. Some just stare. Finally, in the awkward silence that had descended upon their Career Day, another brave student gets up and repeats the same question:

“So, what else would you say is your favorite part about being in the NBA?”

On the exterior, the Cameroon native’s deep, smooth voice has betrayed nothing, but a faint giggling sound is heard coming through his secretly-implanted earpiece. Now the camera goes to the source of the giggling, far off to the side of the gym where veteran teammates Scottie Pippen and Steve Kerr stand laughing to themselves. Kerr leans over and whispers something into a microphone.

Ruben cocks his head to the side, as if to take his time pondering the question again. Then he looks back at the student, same deadpan look in his eyes: “I get to wash Steve Kerr’s car for free.”

And so the commercial goes.

“It was a fun experience,” Boumtje-Boumtje said, this time in real life, but with the same resonant voice, regarding his acting debut. The plot centers around the recently graduated Hoya, who must make a Career Day speech at a local middle school. “But I was scared to do it, so Scottie and Steve had to talk me through what I was supposed to say,” Boumtje-Boumtje explains.

The running joke is, of course, obvious; every NBA rookie is expected to pay his dues. Much like in a college frat, a time-honored tradition – one involving cooking, cleaning, shopping and other random errands assigned by older teammates – awaits the first-year initiate. Even the former star of MCI Center.

Boumtje-Boumtje, however, is no ordinary rookie. “He’s a really smart guy,” teammate Derek Anderson said, and leaving it at that would be an understatement. In a day and age where more and more NBA players are skipping college entirely, Ruben’s pre-med credentials, math and biology double major and three languages – English, French and Bassa – set him apart even more than his height or voice does.

That, however, is Ruben off the court. On it, whether while practicing or in a game, he becomes the player the Blazers drafted over the summer, the player who led the Hoyas to the Sweet 16 last year and who finished fourth in career blocks and 10th in rebounds.

Players dribble, then spin-move and pass to the next teammate. Shots go in and out. The sweat changes from a trickle to a downpour. Mammoth bodies collide with each other and fly around almost as much as the ball does. In these situations, the average high school valedictorian might find himself a little overmatched, but for “Boom-Boom,” as his teammates colorfully call him, the challenge is an exciting one. This is his new classroom.

“Every time you tell him something he goes out and does it. He tries and works as hard as he can,” Blazers Head Coach aurice Cheeks said. “He’s a great kid. Keeps getting better and better.”

Improvement has been the staple of his NBA career so far. After leading the Hoyas with 78 blocked shots in his senior season, the Blazers knew they were drafting a defensive specialist. What they were not expecting, however, was how dramatically and how quickly he improved on offense. “He’s always been a shot-blocker,” teammate Erick Barkley said. “Now’s he’s running the court well too.”

His hard work, coupled with his easy-going demeanor and light sense of humor, have helped win him over the rest of the Blazers. “That’s my man,” Zach Randolph, his closest friend and fellow rookie on the team, said. “He’s a great guy, and a great friend.”

Since the two of them are the only rookies on a veteran roster, they share the same experiences, trials and tribulations together.

“He’s just genuine, you know?” Derek Anderson added. “He’s a good guy – works hard, doesn’t say anything, doesn’t complain. His whole life, demeanor, game, is . wholesome.” Similar comments were made by other teammates and coaches, although Cheeks put it best.

“I think he’s just a beautiful kid,” he said. “His character is beyond measure, so just beautiful.” In fact, it would seem that the only possible detriment to Boumtje-Boumtje’s new social life is his thick Cameroon accent.

“We don’t understand what he says,” shooting guard Bonzi Wells put in while joking around in the locker room. “Good guy, but we don’t know how good he really is because he says stuff to us, but we really don’t know what.”

Though much of life in the NBA is still new to him, he likes what he sees already. “I can’t complain,” Ruben said. “I’m around a lot of good guys. I love the people of Portland; they’re very social. It’s definitely been good.” Even the weather there reminds him of his native Cameroon. Although games, practices and morning shoot-arounds take up most of his hours, he still finds time to have fun. “We might go out together somewhere. I go to the movies a lot. I also stay home, see if there’s a Hoya game on TV.”

But his experience has not also come with its share of trials.

“The first meeting that we had, his cell phone went off at the meeting,” Cheeks said. “That’s a no-no. That’s a no-no as a veteran and certainly a no-no as a rookie. So he got fined the very first day, the first meeting into the league.

“He was a little stunned about his phone going off, first of all, but, I mean, he was fine. Anything you tell him to do, he’s fine. He didn’t like giving up a hundred dollars, but it’s a no-no when the phone goes off.”

Bonzi Wells best described how Ruben was adjusting to his new life. “He’s making the transition from college to the NBA,” he said. “He’s still somewhere in between, so he still has his old Georgetown backpack on, you know. But you know, Boom Boom’s a great kid. [He has] a great head on his shoulders. He’s one of those guys who’s always going to be successful in life whether he plays ball or not.”

That future after the NBA remains a mystery, and Boumtje-Boumtje himself was vague on the matter. While acknowledging that he could always do something with his pre-med credentials, he added that he had other interests as well, such as finance and marketing. “Whatever I want to do,” he said, “it’s going to be something fun.”

And as for now, the NBA is where he wants to be, rookie experience and all.

That includes the Portland fans, his teammates, and, yes, even the random tasks such as singing on players’ birthdays and bringing them pizza at 2 a.m.

“He’s cool,” forward Rasheed Wallace said. “You know, we give him a hard time. We bust his balls, but hey, he’s a rookie.”

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