The inaugural Africa Basketball League tournament is entering the playoff stage. For Sonny Side of Sports, VOA's Prince Nesta spoke with Sarah Chan, Africa scouting manager for the 2019 NBA champion Toronto Raptors, about her basketball journey and the games plying in the BAL.
The interview was edited for brevity and clarity.
VOA: Briefly, can you speak a little bit about your background?
Chan: I am from South Sudan. I grew up in Khartoum until I was about 12. South Sudan was going through a civil war...a civil war that had affected everybody. And so, my family and I relocated to Kenya looking for greener pastures, looking for peace, putting education at the center of everything...My parents reiterated: "we go, we learn, we come back, and we impact." That was the song in our daily lives. And so, (I have) a background of civil war into being privileged to have an amazing family that's very supportive of a young girl that was trying something out.
VOA: You were in the arena when the opening match between the Patriots against US Monastir was taking place? What was the mood Like?
Chan: It is one of the most exciting games thus far. The environment was just so electric. The energy was so high. And for a second there, I look around and I'm like... this is the NBA. This is like me sitting in (Raptors) arena. And the level of the game that is going on that I'm watching, wow the intensity like I'm feeling it myself, but I'm right there with this...The intensity of the game was amazing. They were running the floor, great shot selections, the ball movement was just incredible. And the leadership on the floor. The future is so bright for this tournament. And this game was such an exemplary game.
VOA: What so far are some of the standout teams in this tournament for you?
Chan: The standout teams in this tournament would be the one we just watched, the Tunisian team. Patriots have also showed a great deal. We've also watched Zamalek from Egypt. They've done so well. And so, I'm predicting at least one or two of those will be in the final.
VOA: What does this tournament mean for the African continent?
Chan: It's progressive leadership that, you know, makes the world move around and advances tournaments like this. Because without (Rwanda President Paul Kagame) the NBA, FIBA, we don't have the arena. Let's start there. So there's not, you know, the actual structure, and then you come down to the leadership within the NBA, the people that work behind the scenes, to bring this tournament here, and to make it a success and execute with such diligence. And then the opportunities, this is going to have the ripple effects of just what the BAL stands for, impacting the next generation of athletes.
There were 15 NBA scouts and team like representatives watching this tournament. And this gives us an opportunity to look at young prospects early and build a file. And this is more opportunity for the players. This is job creation for the people. This is economic...It's a socio-economic benefit to all of Africa. Right...And so, the world will continue to reap the fruits of this tournament because it's also a pipeline to the NBA...And it's our prayer that it keeps growing and you know...It already has the sustainability aspects of things. So, it will keep growing. And we hope that it gets to the point where interchangeably athletes can go from the NBA to the BAL, from the BAL to the NBA
It is such a moment that makes you proud to be African. You look down and you see women leadership on the floor...our young women doing things, phenomenal sisters doing amazing things, right?
VOA: What does basketball mean to you?
Chan: Basketball is life. It becomes a lifestyle. It becomes the reason I wake up. it is my purpose. And it reminds me of the saying, the quote by Mandela, (that) sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite and it has the power to create hope. And I look at this and this is home. This is a platform, an elite platform for players to showcase what they have and for the world. you know, to basically enjoy the fruits of talent because Africa is spoiled for choices.
We have such an immense pool of talent and now there's a platform where they can exhibit what they have. And so, it's a gift to the world. And it's also a gift to us. So, basketball is life. Basketball is peace. Basketball is opportunities. Basketball is unity. And the power of it to transcend boundaries.
VOA: Any surprises so far as far as the tournament is concerned?
Chan: The only surprise for me is the Nigeria team's performance. I expected a bit much more from them...Also, in the best way possible, not really surprised, but I'm glad that the Patriots from Rwanda, the host, (are) playing at a high, an intense competitive way...There are also beautiful surprises of different teams, stepping up, and leadership and experiences showing out...
VOA: You also come from South Sudan. What does this tournament mean, for South Sudan in Africa? You know, what should we take from this moving forward to the future?
Chan: Elevation and progress come from leadership. And we must hold each other accountable. We must take sports more (seriously) and invest in the youth and continue to give accessibility and look at the opportunities within this. This is a nation that went through tragedy, look at how they healed. And you know, how they made a comeback, you know, and how they're now bringing the world together.
I hope people's eyes are open and their hearts are receptive to seeing what is being displayed (at the BAL.)...and to wanting to duplicate a Kigali Arena in , you know, in South Sudan.