Pascal Siakam was instrumental in Toronto Raptors Game 1 victory over Golden State Warriors in the NBA finals.
Warriors did well to hold out Raptors' main man Kawhi Leonard, but they never expected Siakam who started playing basketball at the age of 16, coming to the party.
Siakam scored 32 points in their 118-109 win over Stephen Curry's Warriors, to hold a 1-0 lead in the best of seven series.
The Cameroonian was born in his native country in Douala and grew up in Bafia but basketball was not something he intended among his older brothers who were key athletes in the family.
And Siakam's goal was to use his academic talents to elevate him as a priest, which was his goal during his early stages of childhood.
However, at the age of 15, he changed his mind but he did not want to go against the wishes of this father.
“I would never go against his wishes,’’ Siakam told ESPN. “There isn’t a better man I’ve known in my life.’’
At 17, Siakam had developed his basketball skills, and impressed at a camp hosted by fellow Cameroonian and then-NBA player Luc Richard Mbah a Moute.
He took in a program called Basketball Without Borders camp, where he caught the eye of Raptors president Masai Ujiri, who one of the prominent African figures in the NBA.
By 2016, Siakam was a Raptors player who was seen as an incredibly raw prospect, who was long and athletic, but he did not possess a jump-shot so it was difficult to see he was going to make his mark in the NBA.
In the 2017 postseason, Siakam played just two games, averaging a mere five minutes per match. It was then that he knew he needed to make some improvements.
“I think it was two years ago, when we got bounced out of the playoffs. We literally went in the gym the next day and he was kinda like, ‘listen, I need to learn how to shoot; I see that in playoff basketball, you need to be able to shoot to be on the floor’. (We) went to work on that shooting, we changed some mechanics, but that’s a very small thing.
“When I saw Pascal in Basketball Without Borders (in 2012), I couldn’t even tell you if he was an NBA player. That’s how incredible his story is,” Ujiri told ESPN.
“He took it and just absolutely ran with it; just two, three times a day, every day. Just trying to get that part of his game better. That just shows, he was extremely hardworking, like, beyond, super, super committed to finding a place in this league and improving his game.
“I’ve heard a lot of people, or him say some things this year; they keep saying, ‘are you surprised?’. He says ‘no, this is always what I’ve envisioned for myself’, so I think that’s a powerful statement he makes as well. he believes in himself and he went to work at it.”
But now, Siakam one of the candidates tipped to walk away with the NBA’s Most Improved Player award, a season where he averaged 16.9 points and 6.9 rebounds per game in 2019.
Siakam hopes his story can help the growth of the NBA in Africa, as he aims to be an ambassador for the continent.
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“I think it’s amazing. It just shows the growth of the continent, Cameroon, and just basketball in Africa in general,” Siakam said on Friday (AEST).
“Being on this stage and representing the continent is amazing. I feel blessed. I just want the game to continue to grow in Afirca, and for kids to see this; hopefully it inspires them.
“It just prove that, if you put the work in — it’s so cliche most of the time, but it’s the story of my life — just going out there every single night, working hard to get to this level, and knowing that I have so much to learn, and so much to improve and grow. Moments like this show that I’m gonna continue to be my self, continue to work hard, and I have so much move to improve.”