An Unlikely Basketball Star
Averaging 17 points per game, Joshua Kashila is on pace to be among Southwestern Assemblies of God University’s all-time highest men’s basketball scorers. On March 6, Kashila led SAGU men’s basketball to beat the top-rated NAIA team in the nation by 22 points.
The following day, Kashila, 21, was named the Sooner Athletic Conference men's basketball tournament most valuable player. The 6-foot, 3-inch, 185-pound junior led the Lions to win the tournament, which destined them for the NAIA National Championship, scheduled for March 18-24.
But on March 12, COVID-19 forced the tournament’s cancellation.
Though setbacks have long marked Kashila’s life, in his hard-knocks two decades he's gained an attitude about adversity that will serve him for a lifetime well beyond the basketball court.
“Iron sharpens iron, but to sharpen one another, there’s got to be friction,” Kashila says. “I can't be focused on the things I can't control in life. I just lean on God, and I know He's going to take care of the rest.”
Conflict drove his family from their home in Angola to the United States. His dad, Neddy, from the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo, and his mom, Betty, originally from India, together pastor an Assemblies of God church in the African nation’s capital city, Luanda. Kashila and his younger brother, Daniel, and younger sister, Zipporah, were born in Indianapolis, where the family lived until returning to Africa in 2005.
Seven years later, however, Angola remained unstable, prompting Kashila’s parents to plan a move back to the United States. But his parents, who unlike their children were not U.S. citizens, inadvertently had overstayed their visas and could not return. Eager to get their sons to safety, they sent them on ahead on the plane while they resolved their own visa issues.
The boys ended up in Texas, where they lived in an apartment with a 24-year-old cousin and two other adolescents. At the time, Kashila had just finished eighth grade.
Each month, their parents sent their sons money for food and rent. As Angola’s national language is Portuguese, Kashila arrived in the U.S. speaking almost no English. However, in less than four months, he grew fluent.
Although Angola’s most popular sport is soccer, Kashila felt drawn to basketball, in part because of his height. As a child in Luanda, he decided not to just learn to play the sport, but to excel at it. He made a basketball goal, hung it on a tree, and shot hoops with a soccer ball, never mind that he had no skills and knew nothing about the rules of the game. When he started ninth grade in the Dallas suburb of Euless, he bragged to a basketball coach about his prowess on the court.
Kashila faked his way into favor with the coach, who began tutoring the athletically gifted ninth-grader. He could run and do layups. The boy also worked hard and soaked up knowledge that helped him grow as a basketball player. His efforts came to fruition when he made the varsity team at Trinity, a public high school in Euless.
Meanwhile, however, life at the apartment got dicey. The cousin moved out, leaving Joshua and Daniel, ages 14 and 12, to live alone. Later they moved into a one-bedroom apartment with three other minors who had ties to Angola. Troubles soon prompted the flat mates to tell the brothers they had to find some other place to live.
But hyperinflation had hit Angola, eating up their parents’ income. Suddenly they could send nothing to help their sons survive. Nor could the boys fly back home, as their U.S. passports had expired and parental permission is required for minors’ passport applications.
Thus began the boys’ three-year stint of homelessness. They couch surfed first among their parents’ acquaintances until the adolescents wore out welcomes, and then moved among friends at their high school.
During Kashila’s senior year, he showed up at First Baptist of Euless to eat at a church picnic. That’s where he met Heather Snell, a church ministry assistant. He called her one night after his latest host had thrown him and his brother out. The church fed the brothers and found places for them to stay.
Snell describes Kashila’s life back then as “eat, sleep, basketball.”
“His work ethic in basketball is amazing,” she says. “He loves the game. Basketball was escape from everything harsh.”
Seven years prior, Snell, the Trinity High School football chaplain, had connected a student football player with SAGU, and the university offered that athlete a scholarship. After that, she helped three others obtain SAGU athletic scholarships. One of those football players gave a reel of Kashila on the court to the SAGU football coach, who passed it along to SAGU’s head basketball coach.
Kashila ended up with several basketball scholarship offers; however, after he visited the Waxahachie, Texas, campus for a tryout, he opted to sign with SAGU, which gave him a full-ride scholarship.
SAGU’s assistant men’s basketball coach Emmanuel Adoyi, originally from Nigeria, became Kashila’s mentor.
“Josh has been an exceptional player in our program,” says Adoyi, 27. “When he plays hard, we’re going to win this game.”
Head SAGU men’s basketball coach Delton Deal, 37, came on staff at the university in 2017 when Kashila arrived as a freshman.
“He's the epitome of what we want in a kid here,” Deal says, adding that Kashila exemplifies the transformation process the school aims to foster in its students. “We want guys to project Christ. He’s an example of that.”
In December, Kashila visited his prayer-warrior parents in Angola, seeing his family for the first time in five years. There he realized his dream of his parents watching him play basketball for the first time ever. Now he’s back as a senior business management major, taking 17 on-campus hours at SAGU. After graduation, he may have an opportunity to play basketball overseas or in the NBA’s G League.
Kashila recognizes that surviving homelessness for three years of his adolescence is evidence of divine favor and a testament to the power of Christ. It left scars, ranging from difficulty trusting people to foot issues that resulted from wearing outgrown shoes on his size-11 feet. He works at the SAGU Garrison Wellness Center and enjoys student-led Bible studies Thursdays with friends on campus.
“Jesus is definitely in control of my whole life,” Kashila says. “I could easily have gone down the wrong road. I just had to learn to trust Him.”