Masai Ujiri’s basketball camp brings NBA dreams to Africa

Masai Ujiri’s basketball camp brings NBA dreams to Africa


[Masai Ujiri] If you look at the Toronto Raptors. And I look at Kawhi. And I looked at Coach Nurse. And everybody working together. Okay? For one goal. To win. And that’s how we should work in our countries. One goal to win. And you guys have to do that. You guys have to make the country better. Everybody understand? [Multiple] Yes, coach. [Adrienne Arsenault] The Pied Piper has called them all. This is Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and they are the eager, nervous, new faces of the Giants of Africa basketball camp. What does drive look like here? He looks like six-foot-seven fifteen-year-old Freddy Dede. The smile of a kid hanging on the slimmest of chances he’s good enough to be noticed. He needs that. Freddy’s an orphan. He’s not in school. Joseph Peters there in the Miami shirt isn’t in school either. It’s too expensive. So to get new gear is huge. [Arsenault] What’s on your socks? [Dede] This one is my picture. [Arsenault] His prized possession until now. A pair of well-loved socks with his own face on them. [Coach] Alright, you’re going to get to know all of us through camp. We’re going to give you our first name, what country you’re from. And we’ll give two claps. Coach Jama, from Swaziland! [Arsenault] On a continent dominated by socce this is an oddity and that’s the point. All those coaches, some of the NBA and
WNBAs finest. They’re here to push a whole generation to try something different and to get good at it. [Coach] We’re going to start playing some basketball right away. When you play basketball you got to dribble that rock and get really good — pop pop pop pop. [Arsenault] To let basketball be their passport to the future. [Ujiri] Oh man, I am tried. I am exhausted. [Unidentified Speaker] Your flight was delayed? [Ujiri] They just kept me in immigration. [Arsenault] No kidding Masai Ujiri is exhausted. This camp is the creation of the Raptors president. He’s been running it for years and this summer crossed the continent with it. Rwanda, Somalia, Cameroon, South Sudan. Everywhere evangelizing the lessons of
sports. Of his sport. [Ujiri] If they ask me, what’s your name? I say my name is Masai Ujiri and I’m from Nigeria. Yeah? [Kids] Yes, coach [Ujiri] What’s your name? What’s your name? The way are sitting already you’re not telling me your name properly. Tell me your name. They can’t hear you, tell me your name. Okay, good. You need to be confident with yourselves. [Arsenault] There is a fierceness here. And a loyalty. What’s your favourite team? Right here. Yes, you. What’s your favourite team? [Unidentified Speaker] Golden State. [Ujiri] Golden State? Come on. Hey, the moral of the story is if you come to the Giants of Africa camp your favorite team in the Toronto Raptors. [Kids] Yes, coach! [Arsenault] There is heft at this camp. Masai has brought along Patrick Engelbrecht. He’s a global scout for the Raptors. You gotta take these skills home, practice them, share them with your teammates. And Jama Mahlalela. The head coach of the Raptors G-League affiliate team. Both born on the continent as was almost every other coach here. Many of us reached our dreams this past season. And I think what’s really important is that the kids see that represented. When we introduce ourselves you say, ‘Hi, I’m coach Jama from Swaziland.’ I’m Coach Godwin, from Nigeria. That means something because it’s a coach who is in front of them that they view as a Westerner. But really we’re from here as well. [Arsenault] Representation is fundamental to the camp. So there’s always a thought to introduce the kids to the stars in their midst. [Thabeet] You’ve got to make the most of this. You’ve got to pay attention to everything that’s being said to you. [Arsenault] And so 7-ft.-3 Tanzanian Hasheem Thabeet. The only person from East Africa to ever play in the NBA. The life he has is Joseph’s biggest dream. So he gets as close as he can. Which is not really that close. And there’s the hope and the heartbreak of this camp. Both Freddie and Joseph know they will get three intensive days of exposure to the sports very best. And then as fast as they came, the Giants will be gone. [Arsenault] So how do you measure success or program like this? Aside from the looks on some of these faces. Well, the fact is none of the campers in the Giants of Africa have yet made it to the NBA or the WNBA. But at least a hundred and fifty of them have gone on to get basketball scholarships at colleges and universities around the world. Most of them to the United States. Those scholarships mean good education which means doors open by basketball for a lot of kids that otherwise would have stayed totally closed. Freddy, number 61 there still needs to
work on his skills. Joseph though is a standout. He’s fast and confident. But that might not be enough. [Arsenault] What did they say to you today that really sticks in your head? [Joseph] You play smart, and you need to go into school. Not going to school isn’t just Joseph’s problem it’s Tanzania’s. The costs can be out of reach for a lot of kids. And that’s when dreams can die. [Arsenault] So Joseph, tell me about school. When did you stop going to school? [Joseph] 2014. [Arsenault] That was years ago and now he has way too much time to think about what he’s lost. Once he had a high school basketball scholarship to Uganda. But after an injury he was dumped. Now he plays anywhere he can. [Joseph] Because then I pray, I come back. His body has healed but that spirit has not. [Arsenault] Why does that make you sad? [Joseph] Basketballfor Tanzania is not easy. You play, they not give you anything. You play, you play, you play all the time. [Arsenault] Nothing ever seems to come of it. This is a kid who feels trapped. There’s both need and potential everywhere. Momentarily leaving the camp behind Masai heads an hour out of Dar es Salaam to a rural school and it’s dusty clay-court full of kids who seem so familiar. I went to a secondary school just like this in northern Nigeria. It doesn’t matter where you grow up. It doesn’t matter where you go to school. You can become something. So what I’m trying to tell you is that if my dumb ass can’t do it you guys can do it even better. Masai never made it to the NBA as a
player he found another way and needs them to see options too. And don’t think he’s resting on his laurels. Everybody tells me I’m the first president in all of sports from Africa. If I’m the only one, it’s a failure. Yeah, but if I bring others along and one day I can say there are many more that means it was a success. [Ujiri] I guarantee you that one of those kids there is going to become something big. [Arsenault] From that school? [Ujiri] Yes, from that school. Guaranteed. That’s what you want. That’s what that Giants of Africa to be all about. [Arsenault] And there are noticeable changes. On the last day we catch a glimpse of Freddy finding his voice. He’s 15 and shy but behaving like the leader. And don’t think that isn’t seen by the coaches. Come time to announce a coveted spot in the all-star team guess who gets called. I’ve been praying for this, and my dream comes true. [Arsenault] Not just his dreams. Joseph gets the call too. Number 1. That’s him flying down the court. And then before his new raucous pals he plays to win. And they all notice. In the last moments of the camp an MVP as chosen. And look who it is. Joseph is one of the smallest players here but he shines. As thrilled as his pals and coaches are his face says something different. He’s serious and a bit crushed. The camp is minutes from ending. The coaches are about to go home. But he’ll stay put. We asked what he would do next. Just work harder he said. He needs a break but don’t count him out. Don’t count any of them out. That faith is Masai’s fuel. [Arsenault] How good is this day in the office? It’s the best day, it’s the best day ever. [Arsenault] Well, maybe not the best day ever. Yeah, the best day ever was in Golden State but the second best day. [Arsenault] He’s not building schools or drilling wells for water. The Giants of Africa is a seed that it grows is now up to them. I’m a giant! I’m a giant! I’m a giant! I’m a leader! I’m a leader! One, two, three. I’m a giant!

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