NINE-TIME NBA champion Steve Kerr has praised the widespread basketball talent on African soil, saying it needs to be correctly harnessed.
Kerr, the head coach of Golden State who will also be leading Team USA at the 2024 Olympics, was in the Egyptian capital Cairo recently for a Basketball Without Borders (BWB) camp.
“There’s so much talent here,” Kerr told the BBC World Service.
“It’s important for the NBA to try to continue to develop all these young players so that’s why we’re here helping to teach them.
“We’re seeing more and more African players become not just NBA players but All-Stars, when you think about Giannis [Antetokounmpo], Pascal Siakam – players like that – and, obviously, Dikembe [Mutombo] years ago.”
Antetokounmpo, who was named the NBA Finals’ best player last year, has Nigerian roots, Siakam hails from Cameroon – as does Philadelphia 76ers centre Joel Embiid – while Kinshasa-born Mutombo was an eight-time All-Star.
Held over the last four days of August in Cairo, over 60 top male and female players aged 18 and under from across Africa had the chance to learn directly from current and former National Basketball Association (NBA), Women’s NBA and international players and coaches.
“I just want them to have fun, learn, get a little bit better and then go home and take some of the things that they’ve learned and share them,” said Kerr, who has won four of his NBA titles as a coach.
Orlando Magic centre Mo Bamba, whose family roots lie in Mali and Ivory Coast, was among the players in attendance in Egypt alongside Kerr.
First held in Italy in 2001, BWB staged its first camp in Africa in 2003 and has helped several attendees reach the NBA in North America, which is the pinnacle of the sport.
Twelve former BWB Africa campers have been drafted into the NBA since 2003, among them both Siakam, who attended a 2012 camp and became NBA champion in 2019 with Toronto Raptors, and Embiid, who was in the 2011 camp and is now a five-time NBA All-Star.
Cameroon-born Christian Koloko (Toronto Raptors) and Senegal’s Khalifa Diop (Cleveland Cavaliers) were both picked up in the 2022 draft, re-emphasising the opportunities the BWB camps provide to participants internationally.
Kerr was one of five NBA head coaches who shared their expertise with the younger generation this year, with campers and coaches also participating in life skills, leadership development and community service programming.
African players ‘don’t need to leave continent’
This year’s event in Egypt was the first time BWB has been held in the North African country, and was the first since an event in Senegal in 2019.
NBA Africa, meanwhile, now has three offices in Africa, with its Nigerian bureau opened in February and added to those in South Africa and Senegal.
Gbemisola Abudu, who heads the new operation in Lagos as NBA Africa vice-president, says the opportunity BWB provides is one of its main strengths.
“BWB is one event in our calendar I’ve been looking forward to – you get to see the making of future NBA players and WNBA players,” she said.
“They’re being coached by current NBA players and coaches and it’s just remarkable to watch.
“It’s really exciting to just put all the foundational blocks in place and really just give the market an opportunity to experience the NBA.”
A total of 104 BWB alumni from across the world have been drafted or signed in the NBA and WNBA, while a record 41 former campers were among the 121 international players on opening-night rosters for the 2021 – 22 NBA season.
The NBA is building a foothold in Africa, with the establishment of the Basketball Africa League, which boasted an expanded format for its second edition earlier this year.
“In Africa we now have Junior NBA basketball, schools, Basketball Without Borders, academies and now Basketball Africa League at the top,” Kim Bohuny, an NBA representative, said.
“So for many young African players, they don’t need to leave the continent. They can have a full basketball career in this continent and that’s what’s really special.”
The Basketball Africa League features the best 12 clubs on the continent, with this year’s tournament won by US Monastir of Tunisia in May. – BBCsport.