DAKAR, SENEGAL - The U.S. National Basketball Association and the nonprofit SEED Project have opened an elite training facility in Senegal. The NBA Academy Africa is the first of its kind on the continent, and it aims to scout fresh young ballers from across the continent.
The NBA is no stranger to African talent. Bismack Biyombo of Congo, Luol Deng of South Sudan, and Festus Ezeli of Nigeria. Those are just a few top players you will find on the pro basketball courts in the United States.
The NBA is now hunting for fresh prospects in Africa — boys and eventually girls, too — to join an elite training academy outside Dakar in Thies. A second facility is expected to open in Saly later this year.
"Some of the greatest players that ever played the game of basketball came out of the continent," said NBA Vice President and Managing Director for Africa Amadou Gallo Fall: "But there was never a predictable path for them to achieve that, it almost happened by chance, by luck. So now with the NBA Academy Africa we want to make sure that young players who have a talent and passion for basketball now will have a path to achieve their goal."
The NBA signed the agreement with Senegal-based nonprofit, the SEED Project, in Dakar Thursday, officially launching the academy.
Twelve male players are being selected following a series of scouting programs conducted across Africa and two elite skills camps hosted in Senegal. The second of which took place in Thies just this week. Those 12 male players will be the first to receive scholarships for the NBA Academy Africa. The NBA also plans to recruit and train a team of female elites.
Astou Ndiaye-Diatta, a former WNBA player from Senegal, said it's all about changing minds and mentalities, and providing much-needed support.
"It's not easy," she said. "Life is not as easy as in developed countries. Girls are helpers, just like boys are home more. Sometimes for the girls [it's harder] in certain areas than the boys."
The academy will provide a 360-degree approach, focusing on education, leadership, character development and life skills. Students will be trained by current NBA coaches and compete in tournaments around the world.
Retired NBA player Lionel Simmons was in Dakar for the launch. He said his advice to the players is to "work hard and reach for their dreams."
"It's out there," he added, "and this is a great opportunity for guys to get better training, better equipment and be better players and just to take advantage of this. They could have an opportunity to play in the NBA, to play in New York, to play wherever you want."
The NBA Academy Africa is one of six NBA projects designed to unearth talent from outside the United States. ThreeNBA academies have been launched in China. Two more are planned - one in India and another in Australia.
Though football may still be king in many African countries, NBA Vice President Brooks Meek sees opportunity.
"You know our sport is very, very easy to consume," he said. "It's also easy to play, so the more we can expose the future generation of Africans to basketball I think we'll do a great job in growing the sport, and there is no better than through players from Africa playing in the NBA. And that's the goal of this project. "