NBA Academy and BAL offer African teenagers an alternative to soccer

NBA Academy players Emmanuel Okorafor, NigeriaKhaman Maluach from South SudanThey share a lot of commonalities, such as a passion for soccer and a love of basketball. But they are very different when it comes to Premier League teams that they support.

Bitter rivals Chelsea Manchester UnitedTwo teens have been their staunch supporters since they met in high school when they joined the NBA Academy. SenegalThen, he played at the Basketball Africa League's Nile Conference.

The BAL ElevateEach team received one Academy player to play for them for the duration of their tournament. Maluach was just 15 and is standing at 7ft. Okorafor was 17 and plays for DR Congo's Espoir Fukash.

The Beautiful Game was played by both hoopers as children. They had child-like ambitions and wanted to be professional until they reached their heights. [Maluach was 6ft7in at the age of 12]They made a change of direction and found a more viable path for Africa's long-legged athletes.

READ: Everything you need to know about the BAL 2022

Okorafor is a Chelsea fan and still loves football. However, he regards Nigeria as a legend. John Obi MikelAn idol. The Blues are supported by Mikel, despite Mikel's departure from Chelsea.

John Obi Mikel is an inspiration to me. He came from a humble background and struggled through Nigerian soccer before he reached Chelsea. He was a great player at Chelsea. Okorafor said that he is a legend, everyone knows John Obi Mikel so he's a big inspiration to me.”

Mikel was instrumental in Okorafor becoming a football fan, and his older brother helped him transition to basketball.

Okorafor also said that he played soccer growing up. My big brother was a basketball player, so I followed him to basketball practice and fell in love with him. [with]Even though I was too weak for the hoops, I enjoyed bouncing and shooting the ball.”



Khaman Maluach, Emmanuel Okorafor, and Khaman Maluach talk about their love of Premier League football.

Maluach, who was a child in Uganda and had a similar path from basketball to football, said that he used to love soccer as well.

“I used to be a goalkeeper, or striker occasionally. They told me suddenly to go and join the Luol Deng camp in Uganda. They said I should go and just watch, and maybe it would be something I love.

“Most of the brothers knew I would get taller. I was probably 6'7 or 6'8 at that time. Basketball was my first love. 2019 was a year of slow progress and I fell in love.

“I saw some highlights from Giannis.” [Antetokounmpo]KD [Kevin Durant]. It was probably at that time that Giannis was named Bucks MVP. I remember thinking, “Wow! I fell in love the game of basketball.

While the two children have a lot in common, including lounging on the sofa and playing FIFA for hours every day, Maluach is a staunch football fan unlike Okorafor and even Maluach himself.

Maluach said, “I support Manchester United.” “Almost all of my brothers, his children, support Chelsea. My elder brother and I were the only Manchester United fans who weren't different. We are the only Manchester United fans.

Manchester United is my favorite team. “I saw.” Cristiano Ronaldo‘s highlights… I fell in love. And Juan Mata [and Paul] Pogba. “I really enjoy how they play.”

Although not all BAL Elevate stars were able to assert themselves as well as Okorafor or Maluach, they did benefit from playing in teams that didn't have many established stars. This allowed them to play more time on the court.

They will both be remembered for their heroic performance against Zamalek, the African champion. Maluach fought back in Cobra’s opening game against Zamalek, which was an 80-63 loss for the Nile Conference hosts.

Okorafor took the stage in a loss of 101 to 92 to the same opponent. Okorafor scored 13 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in just 25 minutes on court.

The generally impressive performances of BAL Elevate playersSenior players noticed Cairo and Dakar, with Ike Diogu from Zamalek and Petro de Luanda's Angolan legend Carlos Morais praising their teens.

ESPN spoke with Morais: “For us we've been lucky because we have an nice guy, a lovely kid.” [Thierry Serge Darlan]. He is a good steward of his health. Although he doesn't speak much, he lifts the team. We are so grateful to him for his talent as a young player.

Diogu, who accompanied Khadim Mboup on the stage, said that “he's very good.” The sky is limitless. He is 15 years old, and he can play against adult men and hold his own.

When Diogu was asked if he would have been able to perform adequately in the BAL at age 15, Diogu replied: “Probably not. Because it's professional basketball, and there's an African level of physicality.

“Just going to highschool in the United StatesIt's a completely new style of basketball being played [in Africa]So I'm not certain that I would have.

Maluach & Okorafor will now have to decide what next for their careers and hope that next year’s BAL will be a chance to shine.

Motivation is a key ingredient for the team. Maluach said that he is carrying his family's name on the court. “I am the first basketball player from my family, perhaps even our clan to reach this level.”

“I had an uncle who played basketball. He is the one who gives me most advice. Even though she doesn’t know basketball, I receive some advice from her. She tells me to pray before I start playing.

Okorafor will also be returning to the NBA Academy to further his basketball and academic education. Okorafor summarized the team's determination best: “I don’t have a second choice.” Basketball is going to be a success, I'm sure!”

The BAL Playoffs will be held in Kigali (Rwanda) from May 21-28. It will feature eight of the top sides from the Sahara or Nile Conferences. This includes Zamalek, the defending champion, and the surprise package Cape Town Tigers.

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