Toronto Raptors’ president of basketball operations and general manager Masai Ujiri believes Africa could be a “gold mine” for the sport.
The English-born Nigerian masterminded the Raptors’ recent run to the NBA Championship and has made efforts to expand basketball's footprint in his home continent of Africa.
This includes being the director of NBA’s Basketball Without Borders Africa programme, which promotes basketball by conducting training and skills camps.
These have gradually become a hotspot for scouts and an impressive number of former campers have made it into NBA and/or college-level basketball, but Ujiri thinks this level of talent discovery is only the tip of the iceberg.
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“I started scouting African players… We are looking at those long arms; we are looking at speed; we are looking at skill,” he told CNN.
“I tried to understand what the real NBA skill is and what you’re trying to find. And that’s a difficult thing to explain… We all just go, oh my God, I just saw this guy and he’s an NBA player! He’s an NBA player!”
He added, “We lack the necessary facilities in Africa to give the kids a chance. I say that there is talent in Africa, walking around everywhere. It is a gold mine.
“They need to see people like us, so that they will believe in themselves. At the end of the day, in my heart, I am a scout. And one day I want to say, I found this Mutombo, or Pascal Siakam. You want that great player; you want to find somebody who is just going to come and kill it.”
Discussing why he is dedicated to the initiative, Ujiri noted, “We need more general managers. I need more young people. I need more people to see that it can be done.
“Whether it’s coaching, whether it’s scouting or whether it’s playing, whatever it is, people can see, yes, it can be done by an African. This is something that I really take pride in.”