Team USA’s, Nico Mukendi is currently training in Spain with the professional club, Naturhouse La Rioja. Naturhouse La Rioja, located in Logrono, is currently in 3rd place in Spain’s top professional league, the Liga Asobal and for the past few years has been considered the #2 club in Spain, behind perennial powerhouse FC Barcelona. La Rioja is also in 2nd place in Group C of the Champions League (Group’s C/D are a notch below the elite pro squads in Groups A and B.)
Mukendi, age 23, is a native of Hillsborough, NJ and has been with the Residency Program in Auburn since it was established in 2013. He was identified in 2012 after he broke the record on a performance test conducted by Athletic Standard. Since joining the program he has participated in several junior and senior national team competitions. A back court player, he will be practicing with La Rioja informally for 3 days to help assess his development as a player.
Commentary: This is a great development for USA Team Handball and hopefully he is just the first in a steady stream of players heading to Europe to be evaluated by top clubs. More importantly, he is one of the few athletes that have joined the Residency Program straight out of high school. This is important as it takes several years of training to develop technical handball skills and pro clubs are less interested in further developing athletes in their mid to late 20s. More athletes with his combination of age/athletic ability are needed if the Residency Programs are ever to be successful.
Marca.com article (in Spanish): Link
Athletic Standard video on Mukendi: Link
Commentary on Handball Training Academies in Europe: Link (This commentary from 2014 includes a fake news story about Mukendi signing a professional contract in Denmark.)