DAKAR, SENEGAL - For one intense week, 40 boys and 20 girls from 29 African countries were chosen for a highly selective program to train with current and former players from the National Basketball Association (NBA) and Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA).
The NBA’s Basketball Without Borders program has been scouting and training girls and boys across the continent for 17 years. Teenage girls who took part say working with women from the continent who played for WNBA teams has motivated them to stay in the game.
“This experience has been so enriching for us,” Iris, a 16-year-old from Gabon, told VOA. “It’s helped me a lot, I’ve learned new things and it’s renewed my enthusiasm, my desire to keep going and to become someone in the world of basketball.”
Iris says she was scouted for the program by organizers who watched her local team play in Gabon. Iris was then asked to produce a video of her playing and was later informed that she’d been accepted to the program.
The coaches and mentors are helping these young players through drills and matches, but also serve as role models of what the youngsters can become. One such role model is Astou Ndiaye, originally from Senegal. She played for the Detroit Shock, which won the 2003 WNBA championship.
“We have walked the path that they want to walk,” Ndiaye told VOA. “So just being here being able to talk to them, answer their questions and really give them hopefully, the confidence they need to know that if we can do it, they can because there’s a path for them.”
Ndiaye has been coaching young women in the Basketball Without Borders program for years, but is particularly encouraged this year because it is only the second time that Senegal has hosted the program in its 17-year history.
Ndiaye’s presence and enthusiasm for the program have been particularly inspirational for many young women who hope to follow in her footsteps.
“It’s because of them — they’ve inspired us to play basketball, really,” Vanessa, a 16-old player from Cameroon, told VOA. “And it’s because of them that we really apply ourselves here and say that maybe one day we can replace them, or play with them.”
Although only half as many girls as boys are accepted to the program, organizers say that promoting young female players on the continent is just as important to them as working with the boys.
“Our primary mission and goal at NBA Africa, when we launched, was to really increase participation in our sport. So you cannot do that by ignoring more than half the population,” Amadou Gallo Fall, NBA Africa’s managing director, told VOA. “So I think over the years, we’ve seen tremendous progress in the women’s game.”
Ndiaye agrees that in recent years, the women she coaches will have better opportunities than her generation did.
“It’s getting better. If we remember, we were pioneers then,” Ndiaye said.
“And the salaries, all the benefits and advantages that the kids are getting now — it’s unbelievable — so it can only get better.”