TORONTO (Reuters) - Congolese center Bismack Biyombo did not grow up playing on gleaming hardwood floors in Africa but hopes today’s youth will get that chance after the National Basketball Association’s first exhibition on the continent.
The former first-round draft pick, who joined the Toronto Raptors earlier this month, is among the glittering array of top NBA talent featured in Saturday’s game in South Africa, the U.S.-based league’s latest push to reach emerging markets.
But for Biyombo, rather than the game simply helping to draw new fans to basketball, he is hopeful it will provide a platform to give children a chance to learn the sport at a younger age.
“We started playing basketball late and obviously we are trying to change that by building basketball courts,” Biyombo said on Thursday during a conference call.
“The potential is here and now we are all trying to make sure kids can start playing basketball at an earlier age and obviously give them that edge.”
For his part, Biyombo will hold a basketball camp for about 2,000 children in Africa this offseason but he feels Saturday’s game will also go a long way in motivating them to pick up a sport they may not be overly familiar with.
The game will be played at Ellis Park Arena in Johannesburg and feature a team comprising players from Africa and second generation African players up against a squad made up of players from the rest of the world.
Raptors General Manager Masai Ujiri, who is filling the same role for Team Africa, expects momentum from the game to create more basketball clinics in Africa along with youth competition and infrastructure to help give youth more opportunities.
”The reason why you see African soccer has grown to where it is because it’s in us. We start playing at a young age,“ said Ujiri, who was born in Nigeria. ”Whether it’s playing with two stones used as goal posts at the back of a house or side of a road or in your garden or anywhere you can just go and play.
“Basketball is not the same. You need the floor, whether it’s outdoor or indoor, and you need the basket and rims.”
Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes