African representation and domination in the NBA has been growing steadily. The likes of Cameroonian duo Pascal Siakam and Joel Embiid, Congolese duo Serge Ibaka and Bismack Biyombo, Nigerian-Greek superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo, Al-Farouq Aminu, just to mention a few have become household names.
With the aim of even nurturing more talent and expanding the game in Africa, the National Basketball Association (NBA) and the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) also launched the Basketball Africa League (BAL).
Set to commence in January 2020, the BAL will consist of twelve teams from countries across the continent including Angola, Egypt, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia. This initiative further shows the strides the NBA is making to promote the game on the continent and also scout more African talent to play in one of the most popular and lucrative sports in the United States.
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This year’s playoff series has been a dramatic and historic one for the Raptors. Playing against favorites, the Golden State Warriors in the first ever playoff finals in the franchise’s history, the Toronto based team wouldn’t have made it this far without the commendable contributions of their Nigerian president and first African NBA Executive Masai Ujiri as well as the two Africans on their roster – Pascal Siakam and Serge Ibaka.
As the Raptors won game one of the best of seven series on Thursday, praises were particularly heaped on Pascal Siakam for his stand-out and exceptional performance, finishing the game as the team’s top scorer with 32 points. It was also his highest career playoff points.
With the spotlight currently on him, Face2Face Africa highlights how a modest sportsman from Cameroon, who at a certain point in his life was training to become a Catholic priest is now playing in the NBA finals for one of the biggest basketball teams in the league.
25-year-old Siakam was born in Douala, Cameroon. At the age of 11, he was enrolled at the St. Andrew’s Seminary in Bafia with the expectation of him coming out as a Catholic priest, ESPN reports. Spending a total of seven years in the seminary, Siakam began to lose interest in becoming a priest. He could not, however, muster the courage to tell his father.
“I would never go against his wishes,” he told ESPN. “There isn’t a better man I’ve known in my life.”
Siakam’s loss of interest also manifested in his behavior and it became worse by the time he was 15.
“He turned from a very calm child into a very stubborn boy,” said Father Armel Collins Ndjama, the director of the seminary. “At times, I considered dismissing him, but his academic results were so remarkable, we kept him.”
During those moments, Siakam hoped his stubbornness would get him kicked out of the seminary.
“I know what he [Father Ndjama] was thinking,” he said. “‘Why is this smart kid doing all this dumb stuff?’ The answer was, ‘I don’t want to be here.’ I tried everything I could think of to get out.”
He eventually graduated and left the seminary in 2012, ESPN reports.
Despite growing up in a basketball family with his three brothers playing college basketball in the United States, Siakam had little interest in following their footsteps. His journey to the NBA was spearheaded by fellow Cameroonian NBA star Luc Mbah a Moute, whose house was just a stone throw away from his, ESPN further reports.
Mbah a Moute realized Siakam’s potential when he attended one of his basketball camps while at St. Andrews. After a successful second spell at Mbah a Moute’s camp, Siakam was selected to attend Masai Ujiri’s Basketball Without Borders.
“I will tell you honestly,” Ujiri said, “when I saw Pascal in Basketball Without Borders [in 2012], I couldn’t even tell you if he was an NBA player.
“That’s how incredible his story is.”
Showing a whole lot of potential after another successful camp, Siakam earned a scholarship to God’s Academy in Lewisville, Texas, then transferred to New Mexico State on another scholarship.
Despite the loss of his father while at New Mexico State, Siakam rose above all obstacles to develop as a player, winning the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) Freshman of the Year while at it.
In 2016, Siakam decided to declare for the NBA draft. He was selected by the Toronto Raptors as the 27th overall draft pick. The rest is history.