Pascal Siakam: Toronto Raptors star & his unconventional path from Cameroon to NBA
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By Isaac Fanin
BBC Sport at Toronto
Pascal Siakam didn’t pick up. It was a match his brothers played.
Even though his dad dreamed about one Siakam, the youngest of six siblings, was always more interested in other sports.
“I played soccer. I had been good. I could have played football if I wanted,” he states.
The thing is, basketball is hard to ignore when you become 6ft 7in tall.
Considering Siakam has been enjoying the sport for under ten years, his resume is more than striking. Today 25, last year he had been crowned the NBA’s most advanced player. He was a significant contributor since the Toronto Raptors won their first NBA championship title.
Is not what you would call conventional.
Born in Douala, Cameroon’s economic capital, Siakam spent much of his youth in St Andrews Seminary, instruction to the priesthood in a small town called Bafia.
Eight hours’ drive from house, and with the subject of the Catholic Church a strong presence in his world, Siakam didn’t always have to enjoy the lights of city life. But the experience closely shaped him – and that he would become.
“It was really stern,” he states. “Once I went there, I didn’t actually understand how to do a great deal of things. It taught me how to become a guy. How to accept responsibility and treat myself.
“Going out there on earth by myself, finding a way and fighting on my own. I learned there.”
For much of the seven years in St Andrews of Siakam, basketball wasn’t a consideration. You will find daily 5am wake-up calls, using a schedule of chores and tasks to occupy time throughout studies.
His family believed the priesthood was a thing that he might choose to pursue as a vocation. Again Siakam thought.
“Obviously you’re about church and that is exactly what you do every day,” he states. “My dad at some point thought it could be something I wanted to do but it was never my calling”
It turns out his calling could come in the game he had spent much of his life seeking to avoid.
In 2011, Siakam went to some basketball camp organised by Cameroonian NBA celebrity Luc Mbah a Moute. A veteran of this league for 10 seasons, Mbah a Moute, 33, still runs annual basketball camps . They helped a different player from the nation make it in the NBA – the 25-year-old Philadelphia 76ers centre, Joel Embiid.
Despite having played organised basketball before, outdated 17 Siakam’s competitiveness and athleticism were impossible to dismiss and a year later he had been invited to attend to the NBA’s international development plan, Basketball without Borders (BWB), at South Africa.
“It was a big thing for me personally,” Siakam states. “Not because I had a wonderful basketball experience but the surroundings around it. The NBA, the coaches. My eyes opened to a world that was different that I didn’t know about.
“It made me excited and I felt as though, when I got a chance to go to the US and playwith, why not? Also, receive a good education. This was the fantasy.”
Playing in the NBA was at this point still an expectation – not for Siakam nor people near him. But he was gaining admirers.
“He was a skinny, skinny kid,” states Masai Ujiri, Toronto Raptors president, who met Siakam at South Africa in the BWB camp at 2012. “But you can inform his skillset. He had scoring in him. He was really passionate about the match. You can tell it had been his all. I loved that about him.”
Ujiri is one of the most honored executives of the NBA to the way he has overseen the Raptors’ increase to the surface. Much like Siakam, he was raised in Africa – in Nigeria – and for many years he has appeared to invest in the continent, either and separately, with his outreach programme, Giants of Africa.
In the time of their assembly in 2012 Ujiri had no idea that four years after he would be drafting Siakam as a pick. However he could observe a spark to his or her game, a power. It’s remained with him.
“He was only so competitive and wished to acquire,” Ujiri says. “You see mind developing. To get a child it moves. If Pascal plays today, you notice winning.”
Siakam states:”I wasn’t the best player but I was relentless, having this mentality never to give up and always go tough no matter what.
“I’m an athlete. Whatever involves leaping or running I have always been enthusiastic about, so Ray has been exciting.”
By 2012, the three older brothers of Siakam each had obtained scholarships. The Siakam would follow suit. The interest of scouts had piqued by the united states. He had been offered the opportunity to move to Lewisville to complete school. Now aged 18, he would be leaving behind a complete life.
“Transferring from Cameroon into Texas, which has been a shift. Learning English, the culture, what was different so I needed to correct,” he states.
“But I have always been in a position to alter scene. From a young age, I had been taught how to do this and I sort of do it naturally.”
After graduating from high school, Siakam gained a scholarship. Tragedy struck while he was still there, in October 2014. His father Tchamo was murdered in a car crash back home in Cameroon. Since is an tribute to his father, everything Siakam has performed on a basketball court.
“My dad worked tirelessly to take good care of six children,” Siakam says. “He worked tirelessly to ensure we had every thing we wanted. He had his dream and I’m in a position to fulfil that. I’m proud that I am in a position to do that now. I only wish he was here to view it.”
New Mexico State was left by siakam . He left since the Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year, despite having played the sport seriously for four decades.
However he had been seen as a pick.
“My guys are very great,” Masai Ujiri states. “One of our international scouts, Patrick Engelbrecht, he explained ‘Keep an eye on him.’
“He chose me to see him a few times. Over the years, you keep tabs on these and you follow their improvement.”
Siakam had enhanced in the eyes of Ujiri draft him 27th. His trip with the Raptors would start.
Jama Mahlalela is your head coach of the Raptors side that is philosophical. He coached Siakam where he flipped between the G-league group and the team. As an example, the enthusiasm and energy of Siakam were clear from the beginning.
“We speak a lot about’positionless’ basketball players,” Mahlalela states. “Players who aren’t only one specific thing. Pascal is that. He could play with point shield to centre. That is an unbelievable skillset to deliver to this table.
“He pushes himselfday-in-day-out. He doesn’t accept where he is today, he’s always trying for that which player he can be tomorrow.”
This year is Siakam with Canadian unwanted Toronto. He went with additional expectation to the year. They say from the NBA you need a superstar to win. The title success of last season proved that.
Following years of play-off failure, the Raptors and Ujiri swung and traded away the franchise’s most decorated player DeMar DeRozan to get a superstar Kawhi Leonard. The risk paid off and the Raptors were times apparently willed to success by the genius of Leonard . His summer death to the Los Angeles Clippers abandoned them devoid of a celebrity.
It’s a emptiness. Fresh from giving him a fresh maximum contract that will pay him a reported $130m (#99.7m) over four years, the Raptors consider the only way for Siakam is up. The transformation from unwilling baller to superstar seems to be complete.
“Being a winner, I think it attracts more confidence and that is a scary thing for the NBA. Pascal with even more optimism is difficulty,” Mahlalela says.
“He is naturally a certain player, he performs way and I think now, having the confidence to say I won this item as one of the main players on a championship team, that is going to construct his confidence even more.”
The championship glow still lingers. When he required the Giants of Africa basketball camp organised by Masai Ujiri the NBA trophy siakam returned Cameroon for the first time in seven years this summer.
“Being about those children who dreamed to one day be where I am today, just bringing a flavor of this trophy, something they can get, it was an amazing atmosphere,” he says.
“Growing up, I didn’t have the chance to have this around so that it was a special moment for sure.”
Despite the transformation – from a child who would wake up to complete chores in a seminary to a multi-million buck basketball player on the verge of superstardom – Siakam stays unbelievably humble.
Since the Raptors are the only team in the NBA, there is a feeling inside the organisation that they are often overlooked. But the champions that are unlikely aspire to get led to achievement by a man with the most improbable of tales. May and A guy who dreamed of being a footballer have ended up a priest.
“The sort of mentality we have on the group is, there’s a whole lot of underdogs and men that have always been in this place,” Siakam states.
“If you ask any winner, once they get that taste of winning, then they always want it back. That’s my second focus.
“We’ve got a very different team, individuals stepping upwards into new roles, and it’s exciting. That’s what you play .”
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