Ma­sai Ujiri: Next step in de­vel­op­ing African bas­ket­ball is a pro league

Simcoe Reformer - Times-Reformer - - SPORTS - LORI EWING THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

TORONTO — Ma­sai Ujiri be­lieves there are po­ten­tial NBA stars liv­ing in Africa who might never pick up a bas­ket­ball.

The Toronto Rap­tors pres­i­dent and his Gi­ants of Africa or­ga­ni­za­tion is host­ing Man­dela 100, a two-day cel­e­bra­tion hon­our­ing the life and le­gacy of Nel­son Man­dela. It cul­mi­nates with the Rap­tors’ game Wed­nes­day against the vis­it­ing Philadel­phia 76ers that will fea­ture three African play­ers in Toronto’s Serge Ibaka (Repub­lic of Congo) and Pas­cal Si­akam (Cameroon), and Philadel­phia’s Joel Em­biid (Cameroon).

Ujiri said there’ve been talks in­volv­ing both the NBA and FIBA about the pos­si­bil­ity of an African league. The prob­lem is Africa’s in­fras­truc­ture.

“For me, the chal­lenge for the con­ti­nent is peo­ple see Africa as one con­ti­nent, one coun­try, and it’s not. There’s 54 coun­tries with 54 dif­fer­ent laws, reg­u­la­tions and bor­ders and that’s the chal­lenge for us,” Ujiri said Tues­day. “Once we can have some sort of league it’s go­ing to blow up be­cause you can see that there is tal­ent. It’s a gold mine.

“I’m con­fi­dent to say there are 10 Em­bi­ids walk­ing around, there are 10 who­ev­ers walk­ing around in Africa. There are peo­ple who have gone through their lives that have that ath­letic abil­ity who haven’t even touched a bas­ket­ball. They never had the courts, they never had the op­por­tu­nity. That’s why it’s a gold mine and peo­ple are start­ing to re­al­ize it now.”

Ujiri was asked about how a player such as Si­akam or Em­biid would be re­ceived in Africa.

“I think I was on a phone call with (Amer­i­can sports ex­ec­u­tive) Scott O’Neil the other day and he said ‘Em­biid goes back to play it’ll be like Muham­mad Ali or some­thing,’ ” Ujiri said. “It’s why you like the rise of th­ese play­ers with Pas­cal and Serge and OG (Anunoby, who was born in Lon­don to Nige­rian par­ents) and th­ese guys, with this day and age of so­cial me­dia and you can watch highlights on your phone.”

Ujiri’s Gi­ants of Africa pro­gram uses bas­ket­ball to ed­u­cate and en­rich the lives of African youth.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.