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Masai Ujiri creates a springboard for basketball talent in Africa |  Sports |  DW

Masai Ujiri creates a springboard for basketball talent in Africa | Sports | DW

“As an NBA explorer, you are worried about finding the next big thing, the next sage [Olajuwon, nigerianischer Ex-NBA-Star – Anm. d. Red.]Next Dikembe [Mutombo, früherer kongolesischer NBA-Star]next Paul Manot [Ex-NBA-Star aus dem Sudan]’, says Masai Ujiri about his vision to promote African youth through basketball. But the more we do it [Nachwuchs-]Whenever I realize these kids are not going to the NBA or going to college in the States. So how can you teach them everyday skills? And so it expanded into something more. “

Summer after summer, Ojiri travels across African cities to preach the virtues of basketball, the fun of the game, and the personal discipline that the sport demands and encourages. The 52-year-old Nigerian is the head coach of the Toronto Raptors, the only non-US team in the world’s top basketball league. In 2019, the Raptors made NBA history when they brought the championship to Canada for the first time.

Youth camps also for girls

Ojiri, who was born in Britain to Nigerian parents and had modest success as a basketball player, is the first African to captain an NBA team. In this leading role, he also feels responsible for promoting basketball in Africa. Initially, Ojiri was a participant in the NBA Basketball Without Borders charity. In 2003 he was one of the founders of the “Giants of Africa” ​​Foundation, which aims to promote basketball on the continent.

Young basketball players train at the “Giant of Africa” ​​camp in Cotonou, Benin

When the reporter first met Ojiri in 2017 at one of his small camps in the Nigerian capital, Lagos, 60 boys were training there. Ojiri not only taught them basketball, but also emphasized time management, honesty, integrity, respect for authority and – most importantly to him – respect for women. Meanwhile, young female basketball players are being trained in the “Giant of Africa” ​​camps.

He coached two NBA professionals

As a former basketball scout for several NBA teams, Ojiri has found that the education system in the United States offers many opportunities for athletes to gain a foothold in life. Not all talents end up in the NBA, but they stay in the sports environment. “There is a path that is dictated by basketball,” Ojiri told DW. “You can use it as a tool to advance your education and turn your passion for sports into a career: from law to medicine to management and beyond.”

Members of the Africa Giants youth camp in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, sit in rows on the floor of the training hall, each basketball player holding in front of his body.

Youth Basketball Camp (here in Ougadougou in Burkina Faso) as a school of life

In the past five years, two talents from Nigeria’s “Giant of Africa” ​​youth camps have made it to the NBA. Precious Uchiwa, who came to a camp when he was 14, now plays in Toronto under Augerei as a hub for the Raptors. Charles Bassey, who also plays center, was drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers in 2021. Many of the camp’s alumni now play on US college teams.

“There is a lot of talent in Africa and the chances of achieving it are greater now because the game is becoming more global,” says Ojiri. “However, a lot of kids are going through our program and you don’t know if they will become NBA players.”

Keep children off the street

Like anywhere else in the world, children and young adults in Africa have become more interested in basketball since they were able to watch NBA matches online. However, there is still a lack of basketball infrastructure. “We set ourselves the goal of building 100 basketball courts in Africa,” says Ojiri. The sport cannot be played “on the garbage heap,” according to the Toronto Raptors head coach: “In the West there is a gym for every high school, but unfortunately that is not the case in Africa. This is where we have to start. Then young people can They start playing early.”

Last August, the African giants opened the 15th basketball court under their program at a school in the town of Mbuji Mayi, Democratic Republic of Congo, founded by NBA legend Dikembe Mutombo. New arenas have also been established in Lagos, the capital of Kenya, Nairobi, in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, and in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. More to follow.

“For me, the greatest thing is for someone to send me videos of a place, for example the one we built in Tanzania. The kids play there every day,” says Masai Ujiri. “He takes them off the streets where they do things they shouldn’t.”

This article was excerpted from the English language by Stefan Nestler.