A 33-year-old South Sudanese has made history as the first African woman to become a Scouting Manager for an NBA franchise.
Sara Chan, who began playing basketball in 2004, would 15 years later become the Africa Scouting Manager for NBA champions Toronto Raptors.
Chan and her family fled to Kenya in 1998 during the second Sudanese Civil War – a conflict that lingered on from 1983-2005 between the central Sudanese government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army.
It was essentially the continuation of the first Sudanese Civil War of 1955 to 1972.
The Second Sudanese Civil War lasted for 22 years as one of the longest civil wars on record, culminating into the independence of South Sudan six years after it ended. Roughly around two million people were said to have died during the war as well from famine and diseases, which were remnants of the war.
About four million South Sudanese were displaced during the war including Chan’s family.
They fled to neighboring Kenya and that was where Chan’s journey to history making began.
In 2004 as a freshman at Laiser Hill, per school policy, every student has to be actively involved in at least one sport.
The basketball coach at the school then, Tom Opal, saw two tall girls walking languidly on the campus doing nothing and asked them to join the training.
“Before that, I knew nothing about basketball. I did not even like it, but as fate would have it, coach Tom brought out the passion in me because he was so serious that he took it personally whenever we failed to do our best in the game,” Chan said.
“He did not play around with us; you were either in or out. It was always basketball, basketball, and more basketball.
“My experience at Laiser Hill made me what I am today, and I have the entire Laiser Hill fraternity to thank for that. I feel blessed and privileged that I am a basketballer today. There are lots of kids with great talent out there who only wish that they had a chance to play,” she added.
As the Raptors’ lead scout in Africa, Chan told This Is Africa she heard of the story of a South Sudanese girl who was just 15 years old and was going to be married off.
After seeing the picture of the girl, Chan was convinced that she had found a great basketball prospect. She would then take a flight to Juba, South Sudan the next day from Nairobi, Kenya, and convinced the parents of the girl to let her play basketball. A few days later, the girl was in a training camp in Senegal, training with the Raptors team there.
Chan moved to the United States International University in 2007 from Laiser Hill, then headed to Union University in the US in the same year.
After college, Chan then moved to Europe, where she played in Spain and Portugal before returning to the country. She has also played for some top continental clubs in Tunisia, Angola, and Mozambique.
Chan also participated in two back-to-back Fiba Africa Women’s Club Championships in 2015 and 2017.
But the 2015 edition was the one that will remain etched in her memories forever. “I was the top scorer, top rebounder and was even made the list of Africa’s top five best players. I scored 43 points in a 63-60 loss.
“Despite all that feat, it was not the best tournament for me, though,” she told The Star.
When Chan met Raptors President Masai Ujiri she was at home still trying to figure things out after she’d come back from Europe.
She told This is Africa that she saw a Giant of Africa (GOA) basketball camp was about to take place for kids and placed a call to one of the organizers she knew, offering her help to coach the kids.
The three days camp was where she met former US President Barack Obama who was on a trip to Kenya.
Chan also met with Ujiri who would later ask her a few questions about herself, ambition and goals. After making an immense impact on him Ujiri hired her as a Raptors scout in Africa and basketball development associate.
Chan currently travels around the continent finding talent for The Raptors. She told This Is Africa that she has found her role extremely satisfying.