Wed. Apr 17th, 2024

In the world of hoops, when someone refers to “overseas” they typically are referring to somewhere in Europe, Australia or even Asia. But the motherland, Africa, has emerged as a hotbed to challenge and reshape the narrative surrounding international basketball. This hasn’t happened overnight, though. It’s taken a commitment from people with extensive influence, access and relationships.

Masai Ujiri, NBA champion and president of the Toronto Raptors, founded Giants of Africa 20 years ago but has been leading basketball camps in Africa even before that. Giants of Africa is a foundation that has youth empowerment at its core.

“We conduct basketball camps and community outreach events with an emphasis on hard work, leadership and integrity,” according to their site. Masai grew up playing basketball in Africa and took note of the talent and love for the game throughout the continent. Yet, the adequate resources at their disposal were minuscule. Masai took it upon himself to seek out like-minded people who were heavy hitters in the game that could help him change that reality. 

One of those people is Patrick Engelbrecht who played for the South Africa national team in the early 2000s. During his playing days, he met Masai who was coaching the Nigerian junior national team. Masai invited Patrick to help with the camps he was running, and they began to develop their relationship and discovered they had similar sentiments towards the state of basketball in Africa. Patrick is now the Director of International Scouting for the Toronto Raptors.

“I’ve just been working with kids for a long time, especially on the continent,” says Patrick.

Giants of Africa has grown immensely since it was first birthed as a foundation. They used to do whatever they could to get in where they fit in. But as they grow in every aspect, their aim becomes clearer and clearer, which garners more support. “The organization has become so professionalized,” says Patrick when asked about the foundation’s evolution over the years. “They’ve just done such a good job of making sure that the resources reach the kids – that the resources go to the right place.” Patrick believes this is why Giants of Africa has been able to advance so quickly. “Anytime there’s been donations, Masai has figured out how they streamline this to make sure every dime reaches the kids.”

The foundation is much more involved than just running camps, clinics and events. They are determined to make the basketball resources sustainable across the continent. “It’s been interesting watching them go from just running camps and clinics, to now taking on building infrastructure,” says Patrick. In 2021 Giants of Africa pledged and committed to building 100 courts throughout Africa. As of today, they’re up to 29 courts.

To celebrate the foundation’s 20th anniversary, they hosted their inaugural Giants of Africa Festival. The festival took place this past August in Kigali, Rwanda, standing as a beacon of a transformative shift, highlighting the continent’s prowess and untapped potential that lies within its borders. Over the course of a week, 250 boys and girls from 16 different countries participated in an eventful festival that was filled with basketball, education, culture and entertainment. 

Sarah Chan, Africa Scout for the Toronto Raptors, has been involved with Giants of Africa for almost seven years as part of the Giants of Africa development associate team. Her role is fully encompassing: she coaches and is all-hands-on-deck with anything else that is needed. “I’m looking for words to really capture it for you, but I keep telling people that you had to be there to experience how powerful this week was,” she says when asked to describer her time at the Giants of Africa Festival. “It was one of the most magical weeks I’ve ever spent in my life.”

There was a lot of anticipation for this festival as its original plans were derailed by the pandemic. But despite the setbacks, the festival far exceeded its expectations. “The main aim and main goal of the festival was to just live out Giants of Africa’s mission, to empower the African youth through basketball,” says Sarah. “I can’t use any other word than magical, and for me, that was what utopia can be. I call Giants of Africa a utopian home for all of us—the youth, the staff and all the experts that come together…everybody that comes through. It definitely is a family and it truly is a movement, and every experience is so special and it’s just full of love and very unforgettable.”

Darlene Tashobya, one of the youth who attended the festival, is currently hoopin’ at Vermont Academy. Her biggest takeaway was that “the camp is bigger than basketball,”—she made a handful of meaningful connections at the festival and says she still talks to a lot of people from the festival on a regular basis. With her sights set on playing Division I basketball, she also wants to be on the board of the women’s branch of the BAL (Basketball Africa League) and “work with FIBA to have more exposure for the women’s game in Africa and give women in Africa a bigger platform to express themselves through basketball and getting more opportunity through the sport.” 

Darlene’s list of goals is a testament to how Giants of Africa is excelling in their mission: empowering the youth of Africa through the best sport in the world, basketball.

You can learn more about the foundation here.

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