The National Basketball Association's Basketball Without Borders Africa program this year brought NBA players and coaches to Senegal where they trained some of the best young players on the continent. The four-day camp tipped off 5 Aug in Dakar as 60 young basketball players from around the African continent gathered to learn from NBA professionals.
One of the players from Cameroon said the camp gives him hope that his dream of playing professional basketball can come true. Longtime Basketball Without Borders supporter and former NBA player Dikembe Mutombo said the camp also is a chance for others to see what Africa has to offer the world of basketball.
"Africa is a continent that they have so much to offer," said Mutombo. "I think it is also a continent that is waiting to be discovered. There are so many hidden treasures here in the continent of Africa that people don't know about, and I'm happy that the NBA has taken the initiative."
One of those hidden treasures who was discovered eight years ago was Luc Mbah a Moute, from Cameroon. Now a forward for the Milwaukee Bucks, Mbah a Moute was a camper in South Africa at the first Basketball Without Borders event in Africa. Today he attends the camp as an NBA player who trains and inspires boys whose hopes he once shared.
"When you're out here in Africa, it seems so far, the NBA," said Mbah a Moute. "It seems not doable. So to have someone like me come back and tell them it's feasible, you guys can do it if you work hard, I think is really important."
Fellow Cameroonian Michel Ange Enanga is a 16-year-old point guard attending Basketball without Borders for the first time. He said players like Mbah a Moute have inspired him along the way to keep working for his dream to one day play professional basketball.
"I think he's a great person," said Enanga about Mbah a Moute. "He has a good heart, a big heart. And he's a good player, so I want to be like him. I have hope for the future, because when I see it, I say to myself that you can be like him, you can be like that guy playing. I can be, and I will be. I make my promise."
Enanga emphasizes that it is the camp that truly has made him feel closer to achieving his aspirations.
"My favorite things is training with the coach, with the NBA coaches and seeing the NBA players is great," he said. "I can touch it. I can touch it. So it's not dreaming, it's real."
Mutombo, who grew up in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo, went on to play pro basketball in the United States for nearly 20 years, after a stellar college career at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. He says giving other Africans an opportunity is one of the most important reasons he is involved in Basketball Without Borders.
"The reason it is so important to me and so close to my heart because, I did get a chance, an opportunity that was given to me to develop into the great basketball player that I've become," said Mutombo. "And I felt that it was my duty to do the same thing to others, to the next generation that are coming up."
Besides drills on the court, the NBA players and coaches also spoke to the young players about life off the court. Mutombo said that teaching AIDS awareness, community outreach and the importance of education all were essential elements of the Basketball Without Borders program.