South Africa's basketball community

Basketball Without Borders – Africa 2014

By on August 7, 2014 in News

Nigerian-born Masai Ujiri is treading on terrain no African involved in the NBA has dared to venture – being involved in the administrative side of the game.

Ujiri, president and general manager of basketball operations of NBA franchise Toronto Raptors, is a pioneer of basketball on the African continent and abroad.

Through his involvement in the globally acclaimed Basketball Without Borders as camp director for the African leg of the programme, he has over the past decade helped to unearth some talented African players that have made gone on to play in the NBA. Back in South Africa again for the 12th edition of the programme, Ujiri and experienced NBA coaches and players help young African boys and girls to hone their basketball skills and knowledge of the game. But to Ujiri it goes further than the game.

“Somebody said to me that you’ve got to send down the elevator to get all the people, and I felt it was a great saying,” said Ujiri about using this country as their operational base for their programme.

Basketball Without Borders

“It’s been a phenomenal run (being involved in the programme). My obligation for where I am is to create an opportunity for the youth of Africa and it’s something I will always do. I am a son of the continent and I have to participate in helping to develop the game, it’s an obligation like Dikembe (Mutumbo) said we have to use the game as a tool.”

Although the 60 African boys participating in the programme will probably harbour ambitions of making it to the NBA, Ujiri was quick to point that only a few will make it to the professional ranks. The children should therefore rather use the experience to make a positive change in their lives.

“There’s only a couple of kids that will make it to the NBA. It’s (more) about them enhancing their lives, them being men, seeing what type of opportunity does this (the programme) give.

“I have never played in the NBA, but I work in the NBA so they should also capitalise on other opportunities available to them,” said Ujiri who was appointed to his post at the Raptors last year.

The few players who have made it to the NBA through the programme are a source of pride for Ujiri. The likes of Cameroonian players Luc Mbah and Joel Embiid, who play for Minnesota Timberwolves and Philadelphia 76ers respectively, Senegal’s Gorgui Dieng (Minnesota Timberwolves) and Miami Heat’s Luol Deng, who was born in South Sudan but internationally competes for Great Britain, are all products of the programme.

“Guys have done well, they are focused, they are guys that I think will lead the way for these young guys (at Basketball Without Borders). Them just making it to the NBA and creating that path is huge for us and we are proud that they have all done very well,” said Ujiri.

Ujiri, whose primary function is signing and recruiting players for the Raptors, has high ambitions. “I want to win here in Toronto. Sports is about winning. I want to take my team to heights that they have never been to. The priority for us is to build a great organisation and to win,” said Ujiri whose team last season made the NBA play-offs for the first time in
five years.

The NBA will stage an exhibition game next August in South Africa. The NBA first held one of its camps in South Africa in 2003 and has returned nearly every year.

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