Africa 100 camp only the beginning
By Chad Ford
Send an Email to Chad Ford Tuesday, September 9
Updated: September 9
8:21 AM ET
JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA -- Samba Gueye, a skinny 16-year-old , 6-foot-9 forward, has learned more than drop steps and motion offenses here at the NBA Africa 100 Camp.
He's also learned a bit of humility.
"I practice a lot, but I'm not sure I was practicing the right way," Gueye begins. "People in Senegal tell me I am good player. But I come here and see that I have a long way to go."
A long way. And he's one of the good ones.
"There aren't any prospects here," Camp director and Mavs scouting director Amadou Fall says. "Just projects. Big projects."
Gueye's one of the lucky ones. In the next few years, he'll likely head to America and begin the real process of turning from a project into a prospect. For so many others here, the road will be so much harder.
In just a week's time, most of the players here have improved dramatically.
"It's like night and day," former coach Don Casey said. "These kids learned a lot in a very short space of time. It was very encouraging."
If Casey comes back next year, however, he's likely to be discouraged. Nuggets international scout and Nigerian native Masai Ujiri says that most of what has been learned will be lost over the next year.
"Eighty percent of what they learned here won't be remembered," Ujiri said. "To truly learn something, you have to have repetition. Unfortunately, when most of these kids go back home, there won't be anyone there who will practice these drills with them."
Sam Ahmedu, of FIBA Africa, agrees. Ahmedu also coaches an amateur team in Nigeria. He's behind most of the talent that comes out of Nigeria. Many feel that Nigeria is one of basketball's most impressive stories in Africa. Ahmedu isn't so sure.
Top 6 African players not in NBA
1. Emeka Okafor, 6-9, Junior, UConn
This is a little bit of stretch. Okafor grew up in Houston. However, his parents left Nigeria in the 1970s after the Biafran Civil War. Most of the Nigerians I talked to consider him to be Nigerian and say his family still keeps close ties. Okafor will likely be a top-five pick in the 2004 draft.
2. Luol Deng, 6-8, Freshman, Duke
Deng may be another stretch. He was born in the Sudan, but grew up in England and played high school basketball
in the U.S. Deng has drawn comparisons to Grant Hill. After LeBron James, many felt he was the second-best NBA prospect in the high school class of 2003. If he can get stronger physically and has a good freshman year, a la Carmelo Anthony, he's a lock for the lottery.
3. Pape Sow, 6-10, Senior, Cal State Fullerton
A real success story from Senegal. Sow's high school team
in Dakar didn't even have a basketball team, yet somehow he found a way to get to the states. He's strong, an above average athlete and an excellent rebounder. He's still raw fundamentally, like many players we saw here at the camp. His perimeter shot is practically non existent, as are his passing skills. Still, he plays with an aggressiveness that hides some of his other deficiencies. Could be a first-rounder in 2004.
4. Romain Sato, 6-5, Senior, Xavier
The Central African Republic native is a big-time scorer in college with top-notch athleticism, strength and leaping ability. Unlike many players from Africa, he's got a nice 3-point shot. He's an above average rebounder for his size and can score in the paint. He's still raw from a basketball IQ perspective and can be turnover prone. Some scouts think he's a bit undersized to play the two, but his 6-foot-10 wingspan should make up for being an inch or two under the average.
5. Tahirou Sani, 6-9, 17 years old
The native of Mali is playing in France right now for the Gravelines. Sani is yet another top athlete who already has a body that looks NBA ready. His game is power in the paint right now. If he can improve his outside shooting, he'll be a prospect to watch down the road. Once scored 100 points in a French junior league game.
6. Churchill Odia-Ehis, 6-6, High School Senior
Considered one of the top 50 high school seniors in the country. A native of Nigeria. Odia is a big point guard with great athleticism. An unselfish player who looks to get his teammates involved, but can take over a game when he needs to. He'll go to a top college program for the next few years. If he develops, has the potential to be special.
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"We just don't have the infrastructure, the facilities or the communication to do this the right way," Ahmedu said. "Our real goal is to find a coach in America who is willing to take a player and give him a good education. They just aren't going to get what they really need here in Nigeria."
So like many basketball programs in Africa, the focus right now is on exporting talent, not finding ways to grow it in the home soil.
Take Olumide Oyediji for example. Oyedeji has been coming back to Africa for the past four years, putting on basketball clinics in the summer. Each year he identifies several players with potential and sponsors them in the U.S.
Oyediji's foundation handles everything. He finds them an America school, gets them a visa and then helps them pay the bills in the states. The results? Players like Churchill Odia-Ehas get the coaching and exposure they need to have a shot at playing professional basketball.
Odia-Ehas, a long, slender 6-6 foot point guard, would have never had a chance had Oyediji not sponsored him. The only exports the NBA are taking from Africa right now are big men. Odia would have never gotten he fundamentals or basketball IQ necessary to make it had he stayed in Nigeria.
Now, after just one year Montrose Christian in Maryland, he's ranked as one of the Top 50 incoming high school seniors in the country. Teams like Duke, Oklahoma and Arkansas are recruiting him heavily.
"The scouts aren't really coming to Africa," Oyediji said. "So we have to bring the kids to them. I tried to get a visa to the United States, but couldn't. So instead, I went to Germany to play. Luckily I got on the same team with Dirk Nowitzki. When the NBA scouts started to come to watch Dirk, they found me."
If Oyedeji doesn't sponsor them, people like Ahmedu hit the Internet trying to find a coach willing to take one of his players.
"We send statistics over the internet," Ahmedu said. "There are databases out there that high school coaches use. If they are looking for a power forward or center, maybe they see something they like."
Ahmedu said that he also sends tapes to high school coaches that he knows. If they take the kid, Ahmedu and others try to raise the money to pay their way.
That's why Ahmedu and other Africans were so upset that college coaches weren't able to attend the event.
"These kids want to go to America schools, they want an education," he said. "Basketball isn't everything to them. They know that ultimately an education means the difference between hope and death in Africa. The NCAA says they want student athletes and these kids would truly be that. How many African kids do you hear are flunking out? It doesn't happen. School means too much for them."
The presence of NCAA coaches would have also helped the kids' chances of getting to an American high school. They have a vast network of contacts in the high school coaching world that guys like Ahmedu desperately need to tap.
If Ahmedu fails to get them to the United States, sending them to Europe is a last option.
"They get good basketball training in Europe sometimes," he said. "But where is the rest of the education? If they don't make it with the basketball, they're in trouble."
They can be in trouble anyway. For years, Ahmedu and other Nigerian basketball officials here allege that teams from Russia and Europe were coming to Nigeria and "buying" players. Teams would offer families several thousand dollars for the player.
That's a lot of money in Nigeria, but the result was a 21st century form of slavery. The player was taken out of his homeland and stuck somewhere, forced to play basketball with little or no compensation in return. Some of the stories are horrific. Ahmedu claims that FIBA finally cracked down on the practice, but the wounds still remain.
"The kids are sometimes afraid to go there," he said. "There are good situations and bad ones, but the stories are still told. At least if they go to the United States, we know they are getting a good education."
That's not to say everything in Europe is bad. Players like Tahirou Sani, from Mali, have made a name for themselves in places like France, where players of African descent have seem to have found acceptance.
Playing on the French junior team, for example, gives players like Sani the opportunity to play in international tournaments against the best players his age. He's already matched up against the likes of Carmelo Anthony and Luol Deng and played well. That type of exposure is what it takes to get on the map.
Several NBA scouts claim that the system needs further tweaks. What the players really need, they claim, is to go to a place that will teach them hardcore basketball fundamentals five hours a day, seven days a week.
Some claim that it's just a matter of time before private basketball academies start popping up around the globe. There, they could take raw players, give them an education and give them as much attention as they need on the basketball court.
Others think it's about time that Africa and Yugoslavia start talking.
"The best teachers in the world right now are in Yugoslavia," one NBA scout said. "Could you imagine what would happen if they got a hold of these young kids. They have great size and athleticism. If they spent five hours a day practicing fundamentals, shooting and playing within an offensive system, in three years you could have Africans among the best players in the world."
For now, however, that's all a scout's hoop dream.
The next step in Africa won't come until next year. The word is that the NBA will begin holding this camp each summer. Next year, however, things will be different.
"First, we've got to bring the coaches [from African countries] next time," Ujiri said. "If we teach them how to run these drills properly, they'll bring it back to them and start giving the kids the repetition that they need.
"Second, we'll do a better job of truly finding the best prospects. This year it was a little bit of hit and miss. With the camp's success, we should be able to get the best and brightest here next year."
Finally, Ujiri and the others argue that they have to find a way to get colleges and even high schools involved in the camp. The gap is too wide for the NBA to bridge. With a few assists from the NCAA and high schools, expect more tangible results to come.
Still, for all of the tweaks that need to happen, the camp was a smashing hit to folks like Sam Vincent, who hatched the idea over a year ago.
"This gives us all a real shot in the arm," Vincent said. "Basketball is just starting to get popular here in Africa. For so long, soccer was all that mattered here, but there's a new interest. People are watching the NBA on ESPN in Africa. They know the players. Now they just need to see some of their own make it."
For Dikembe Mutombo, the long-term effect of the camp has a much wider reach.
"We can make people's lives better," Mutombo said. "I think this opened everyone's eyes -- the players, the coaches, the NBA and the media. We've ignored Africa for too long. With everyone's help, the result won't just be 10 to 20 Africans in the NBA over the next 10 years. The result will be food on the table, hospitals for the sick, programs for the abused, hope for Africa. I can't think of a better cause than hope."
Ask any of the players here and they will agree.
"We won't forget it," Gueye said. "Now it's our turn to do our part."
Now it's all of our turn.