It was on the dirt basketball courts of Nigeria that Masai Ujiri first saw Solomon Alabi, a gangly, untrained, 6-foot-9 teenaged bundle of promise and potential.
Alabi was precisely the kind of youngster the Raptors assistant general manager of player personnel wanted to reach in his goal of developing the sport he loves in the country of his birth, a kid who was hungry to learn but lacked the opportunity, possibly destined to live a life of unrealized athletic potential.
As he stood in the Raptors’ practice facility Tuesday afternoon, just after Alabi had taken another step on an improbable journey from those dirt courts to the NBA by going through an NBA pre-draft workout, Ujiri beamed.
And rightfully so.
Alabi, now a 7-foot-1 Florida State sophomore likely to be picked in the first round of next week’s NBA draft, represents one of the true success stories of Ujiri’s work to make the sport relevant and the opportunities great for African teenagers.
“He meant a lot in my life,” Alabi said of Ujiri. “When I started playing basketball in a small town (Kaduna) where not too many people knew about basketball and only a few people played basketball, Masai did a camp in my town and . . . that’s when I started getting exposed to basketball.”
It was all part of Ujiri’s grand plan to provide opportunities for Nigerian youths who’d been denied them. Ujiri has run a camp for young African big men for about a decade and has been heavily involved with the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders program, which is where Alabi continued his development.
It is the kind of outreach program the NBA is rightfully proud of as it searches out talent and provides instruction and infrastructure.
“When I started playing, I never played on a basketball court,” said Alabi, who is projected to go late in the draft’s first round. “I played on dirt on the ground, they don’t even have concrete on the floor. I went to the camp and they had concrete on the floor .
“Basketball Without Borders really helped me. That’s where I first got exposed to well-organized basketball and that really encouraged me to play basketball more.”
That encouragement is just what Ujiri’s been trying to provide to African youngsters for years. Alabi is one of the crowning jewels, a teenager who took advantage of the camps and the contacts to go to the United States for high school and parlay that into a scholarship. Now he’s on the precipice of an NBA career.
“We’re slowing getting there and with the programs like Basketball Without Borders and the big-man camp and all the programs growing in Africa . . . we’re very, very proud of these kids,” said Ujiri.
Seen as a raw but talented young big man, Alabi was one of four prospects to work out for the Raptors on Tuesday. With another round of workouts scheduled for Thursday and one in the works for next week, the staff is slowly trying to shape some sort of priority list.
But whatever happens, Ujiri is going to keep a close eye on Alabi because of the bond that developed on another continent.
“He’s a great example for the kids back home,” said the Raptors executive. “With a country like Nigeria and a continent like Africa, with the population, there are so many kids, we just need the facilities and you guys (the media) to promote the game a little bit and we can build some more courts over there and grow the game.”
"You don’t know the Bruno Caboclo......"Bruno Caboclo
Where is Alabi now? he was raw like uncooked chicken but he had a nose for the ball.
The unfortunate thing about Alabi is if someone had just told him to start taking jumpshots, he probably had a chance at a long term contract under Colangelo.
Someone missed the boat on that one.
You guys are seriously getting this worked up over a second round pick? You act like we took him in the lottery or something.
I wonder if Ujiri would bring Forbesy back
Actually for me, 2 underrated moves by Ujiri were not matching the Raptors offer sheets on both Klieza and Forbes. No overpaying for scrubs. I like that he's all about high potential talent.
One thing that really pissed the hell out of me during BC's tenure was the lack of Chinese players. I ain't specifically talking about Lin, but how could they completely ignore all the Linsanity that took over Toronto everytime he came here ??
Its something TL should do something about, its like free money.
What the hell are MLSE doing
SourceOne thing is for sure: Denver Nuggets Vice President of Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri is going to be getting a raise this off-season. The team he will be working for is still to be determined. According to Doug Smith, beat reporter on the Raptors for The Star.com in Toronto, Ujiri will take a couple days to mull over the offers from the Raptors and Nuggets. The Raptors' offer appears to be in the neighborhood of $1.5 million per season, according to Smith.
1.5 Mill?! They better have another candidate on the ready.
Nuggets still trying to keep Ujiri. Well. We stuck.
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