My name is Meshack Lufile, I’m a 6’9 PF/C raised in Burlington, Ontario, and here’s some insight on my journey so far. Initially, I was overweight in middle school. I loved chocolate, enjoyed candy and played video games for hours. I come from a very athletic family, my Dad was a wrestler in Congo, and my mother was a basketball player growing up in Congo. You could say I may have learned a thing or two from them. My older brother Chadrack Lufile was an up and coming star in the Canadian basketball ranks and although I looked up to him, I was never ambitious enough to chase the game of basketball like he did. I simply had no interest and was content with what I was doing. Fast forward to seventh grade basketball tryouts at Pineland Public School, I thought being the younger brother of Chadrack Lufile, with the name he made for himself there, would automatically put me on the team. No sweat right? I was wrong. One thing in life I know and understand now is that you can’t borrow fame or past success from another individual. Creating your own identity is the most important thing you can on the court and off the court. I was cut from my grade 7/8 team, because I was overweight, knew very little about the game of basketball, and I had no passion.
I attended Robert Bateman High School in Burlington for my freshman season and made the team, but at this point in my life volleyball was my favourite sport. Yes, I played volleyball and yeah, I was good. Most of my friends at that school were on the team so for me it worked out. I transferred to Assumption Catholic Secondary School because Chadrack had switched, so as every little brother mostly does, I followed. Everywhere I went I was chasing him, but I knew than that I didn’t want to be always called Chadrack’s little brother and I wanted people to know me for being Meshack Lufile. For that to happen I would have to find my own identity. Fast forward to eleventh grade, I made the Men’s senior basketball team and was able to play alongside my brother! All my hard work and dedication had paid off and I was excited to be able to take the floor with him someday, or so I thought. I later found out that my brother begged the coach to put me on the team. I was crushed. I felt confused, unwanted and felt like giving up. One day I got a call from a man I hold dear to my heart, Coach Tarry Upshaw. He showed interest in me, but my initial reaction was: Me? Why would a Coach want to take a chance on me? In my high school career, leading up to twelfth grade I hadn’t even played ten games of basketball. I now understand what my Dad used to tell me about “God’s timing” and He is always on time. I decided to try this new REDA prep team. It was hosted out of St. Mary’s Catholic Secondary School in Hamilton. First day of practice we ran drills. One of the most laughed about drills was the 3-man weave. I struggled heavily to do this drill because I was still out of shape. I wasn’t allowed to practice with a ball for an entire month; instead every practice I would skip and run, until I became fit enough to practice with the rest of the team. After a developmental first season in REDA under Tarry I felt I had taken the next step in my career. I was a force to be reckoned with in my last season averaging about 22 points and 11 rebounds. That year we would go on to beat Grassroots Academy in the National Prep showcase and win the championship. Not only was I a starter, but I became a focal point of opposing teams’ defensive schemes. So maybe this basketball thing was going to work out after all. I look back and thank Tarry Upshaw for everything he has done for. His support and never give up mentality he instilled in me still resonates today. He will always have a special place in my heart.
After a successful victory lap in high school I started to gain interest from teams around the country, the team that showed the greatest interest was Cape Breton University (CBU). They even took the time to come and visit me in Burlington. It was a blessing to see how far I had come from being an out of shape kid to someone who colleges wanted. God is good and He’s real. I received an offer from University at Albany (UAlbany). Albany seemed like a great idea, but first I wanted to attend my first recruiting trip and it happened to be at CBU in Sydney, Nova Scotia. On my recruiting trip there I completely shattered two bones in my right foot. I lost my offer to UAlbany and it felt like my life came crashing down. But CBU’s offer was still on the table and I took it. For that I will always be grateful. My freshman year in college we had a young roster and a decent team, but we went through a coaching change and I had a lot to learn. The game was faster, more physical, and required a higher IQ. In my second season at Cape Breton, Matt Skinn took the reins, he brought in a ton of new recruits, as well as retaining some of the core from my freshman year, including James Dorsey, arguably the best player in the country at the time. Matt is another coach I am tremendously grateful for because he didn’t have to bring me back, but he saw something in me. In my second season, it was all about team success, we won the AUS conference championship, with a 19-1 record, and I was named tournament All-Star. I want to challenge everyone to never give up because its about your journey and success has no timer. If you would have told me in my second season in university, I was going to be an All-Star catalyst for a championship team, I would have laughed out loud. I was a 2 time All-Star, a Defensive Player of the Year, and an MVP runner up in I’m my last three seasons. I also shot the highest field goal percentage in the country at 69 percent. This is perseverance. Fast forward to my final year in the quarter final game of the playoffs against the Acadia Axemen: I finished with 2 points and we lost by 3. One of the most heart-breaking things I have ever endured. I came to a realization that this Cinderella run I was having was coming to an end and felt there was no way I was going to continue to play at the professional level, but God is faithful, and He is good. I checked my phone after the game and had a couple agents had messaged me showing interest. This was real, this was my moment. I now had the opportunity to play a sport I had fallen in love with and get paid to do it.
My first pro season began in Aris Leeuwarden in the Dutch basketball league first division, a respected league in Europe. I had a good rookie season and continued to learn more about myself. Going up against 7 footers and bigger players made me realize I had to be more than just a back to the basket big man. I became a big that could run the floor, shoot the ball. My second season I was offered to return, I suffered a disc bulge in my lower back and was released from the team. Kids and aspiring pro athletes, understand once you leave college it gets real. It’s a business and nothing is ever personal. It is simply part of the job. I later joined the Island Storm based in Prince Edwards Island in the National Basketball League (NBL) in Canada. I broke my foot the first game and sunk into a period of depression, alcoholism and weight gain. I had no drive and was ready to quit. I was very overweight, roughly 300 pounds, I felt like giving up on basketball because I thought it was giving up on me. But my faith kept me strong. The following summer I decided to dedicate my life to changing my body. I spent hundreds of dollars on Ubers, trainers and anything I could to help get myself back into shape. My name was becoming an afterthought, and no one wanted anything to do with me basketball wise. The summer of 2018 I went to a camp in Las Vegas and had a good showing. It was run by my agency and many pro teams were there; still the interest was low. I made a desperate move and my new agent contacted Mike Leslie of the Halifax Hurricanes (a team in the NBL) and he gave me a chance. I made the team. The experience was both unique and challenging, playing with some big names from New York, they were pit bulls on the court, they helped teach me mental and physical toughness. I was proud of my progress throughout the year, and the biggest stand out of the season was my older brother joining my team and us competing for a championship together, falling short in Game 7 of the conference finals. That summer, Tarry Upshaw took over the Guelph nighthawks in the new Canadian Elite Basketball League (CEBL), not only did my older brother join me, so did my younger brother Abendago. Three brothers on the same pro team, how often has that happened? Man, it was special! Leaving Europe for 3 years humbled me, taught me how to overcome adversity and I met some great people. I have been constantly overlooked and to this day I still play with that chip on my shoulder. But my goal was to return to Europe. I’m happy to say I’m currently playing in Romania, in the First division, with La Liga Nationale.
I look back and thank God and the many people who had a positive impact on me, to help get me to where I am now. I am nothing without my Lord and saviour Jesus Christ, and He has been there from the start. I dealt with minor mental health issues because I never felt like I was good enough. I had little support and I really had to come out from the mud to make it.
I was the only brother in my family to not attend a Division I university, but through hard work and trusting God, I am a professional basketball player, and I am an example of the underdog story. Philippians 4:13 says “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength”. My strength comes from above, but it also comes from personal family matters that have brought my family closer and made my grind that much more serious.
I would advise every athlete to build a small circle, have goal-oriented individuals that push you, but can also tell you the truth when necessary. Constructive criticism is so important. I could have given up, but what would that make me? A quitter, and my Dad and Mom never raised no quitter. I hope to continue to inspire many kids on my journey and help them create an identity for themselves and believe in their potential not only as athletes, but as people.
It’s always been bigger than basketball, my name is Meshack Wandja Lufile, and this is my story.