The Spirit of the Congo
How Mike Panaggio and DME Academy are helping young athletes with the guidance of NBA player, Bismack Biyimbo
On July 31st, Mike Panaggio, co-owner of DME Academy in Daytona, Florida, set off to the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Africa for a 2 week stay. The DME co-founder was accompanied by Bismack Biyombo, who plays in the NBA for the Phoenix Suns and Xabi Zusperreguy from France. The purpose of the trip was to change the lives of young athletes by helping Bismack organize and execute a basketball camp for the youth of the Congo, in which two lucky athletes would be selected to attend DME Academy for the 2022-23 season on a full scholarship.
On what motivated Panaggio to award two full scholarships to DME Academy he explains, “Whoever gives, needs to feel as good as the person receiving the gift of a scholarship. We are looking for two fortunate athletes who want to come to America, have a high degree of respect for education, will put their all into trying something new, and have a certain discipline of family culture.”
The two students who will be attending DME Academy on a full scholarship will be learning benchmarks in English, physicalities on the court, how to adapt to American style of basketball, and how to make lifelong friends with other student-athletes in the US.
For the last two years, The Biyombo Family Foundation has not been able to host any camps due to the sweeping Covid-19 pandemic. Panaggio acted as an assistant counselor to Bismack to make sure that the first year back was an unforgettable experience for the young hopeful athletes.
On the first day of camp on August 2nd, almost 120 kids ventured across the Congo, some traveling as far as 4 hours, to show off their skills to their nation’s hero, Bismack Biyombo. The next 3 days were filled with drills, shooting, working on physical benchmarks and playing pick up games against each other. The last day of camp, August 6th, held the most excitement. The team held an all stars skills competition consisting of a slam dunk contest and 3 point shooting competition to test their accuracy. Both girls and boys competed in the cutthroat competition.
“The final day of the basketball camp in Lubumbashi, with over 3,000 locals watching, was incredibly powerful and touching,” says Mike Panaggio. “It is amazing how everyone shares the same love I have for basketball. We always felt safe and very welcome by the people of Lubumbashi, even though we were the only foreigners”
After exploring the cities of Kinshasa, Lubumbashi and Goma, completing a successful three day basketball camp, and making countless memories, Bismack brought Mike and his crew to his mother’s house for a true, homestyle Congolese dinner to wrap the trip up.
Mike was the only one to make the trip from DME Academy this year, but he is hopeful that his son, Matt Panaggio, will accompany him next year to appreciate the Congo and find the next two future DME Academy attendees.
Each year moving forward, DME will sponsor 2 new athletes from the Congo in partnership with the Bismack Biyombo Foundation to give them a chance at a better life.
During the trip, Panaggio, Biyombo and Zusperreguy were accompanied by a video crew. They will be releasing a documentary in the coming months of their experience in the Congo and will name it “The Spirit of Congo”. Watch out for it on the DME Academy social channels!