The NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Championship- the annual Spring tournament featuring 65 US college basketball teams- just tipped off. For three weeks millions across the nation are gripped by March Madness which shall rise to a fever pitch with the start of the Sweet 16 this week. Chances are if you filled in your fantasy bracket this year you've picked at least one team that has an African player, including the rosters of big name perennial challengers like the UCLA Bruins, Maryland Terrapins and defending champions the Florida Gators. As a growing number of college recruiters focus their recruitment efforts on African nations, the question arises whether these new African heavy NCAA lineups can yield the next generation of Mutombos and Olajuwons.
Team recruiters are drawn by the raw athletic power and mobility possessed by most African players, many of whom grew up playing the predominant sport of le monde entier -soccer. These athletes are blessed with the limber footwork and supple hips developed by playing fÃƒÂºtbol. The disadvantages are a lack of basketball-specific strength endurance (especially in their upper bodies) and, most importantly, an absence of the intricate fundamentals needed in playing hoops. Many African players began playing basketball simply because they outgrew soccer- a sport dominated by athletes with low centers of gravity.
Most Americans are instilled with the building blocks of b-ball- shooting and ball handling- at a young age. As young teenagers they go on to learn more advanced skills such as rebounding, low-post moves and pick-and-roll action, in organized basketball leagues. Not afforded with the same early exposure to the sport, their African counterparts are challenged to play catch-up once they do in fact take up basketball- some as late as the age of 18. By that age American high school phenoms like Lebron James were only a year away from NBA glory. As a result many of the players listed below are athletically gifted and perform admirably on the defensive side of the game, but their offensive deficiencies are glaring and some times frustrating to watch.
You groan inside when a seven-footer rebounds the ball but brings it low enough for smaller men to slap it out of his hands or when he is unable to execute a simple drop-step in the post. The onus on these players is for them to practice, practice, practice. They must hone their basketball skills any chance they get in order to imprint the basics on their still malleable minds. In their defense, they're often juggling academic and athletic responsibilities as well as contending with issues like homesickness- a real hurdle for an 18 year-old away from his mother and motherland for the first time. Many of them are also struggling to simply understand what their coaches are saying, as they originate from francophone Africa.
But as basketball grows in popularity in Africa- so will the skill level. Basketball will probably never surpass soccer's dominance in Africa, but if African youngsters are at least exposed to the joys of making a lay-up or making a sweet jumper, they stand a much better chance when they grow too tall to be soccer stars.
Some of the current NCAA players have grown up ballin' like US- born Joakim Noah who is the son of half French- half Cameroonian tennis great Yannick Noah. As a result of the smooth athletic prowess inherited from his Dad and skills honed in basketball rich environments like France and Harlem, he is well on his way to NBA stardom.
College ball glory is definitely an avenue to an NBA contract as witnessed by successes like 2004's 2nd draft pick Emeka Okafor-born in Houston to Igbo parents. The greater glory will be in producing a league of successful African players who give their best on, and off, the court like the humanitarian Dikembe Mutombo.AFRICAN PLAYERS in the 2007 NCAA MEN'S DIVISION 1 TOURNAMENTMost Prominent-NBA Prospects:FLORIDA Gators
JOAKIM NOAH #13 Forward Center - CAMEROON
LUC RICHARD MBAH A MOUTE #23 Forward - CAMEROON
ALFRED ABOYA #12 Forward-Center - CAMEROON
EKENE IBEKWE #12 Forward - NIGERIA
Others in the 2007 NCAA MEN'S DIVISION 1 TOURNAMENT GEORGE WASHINGTON Colonials REGIS KOUNDJIA #23 Forward
- CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC DOKUN AKINGBADE #42 Forward
- NIGERIA VIRGINIA COMMONWEALTH Rams WIL FAMENI #2 Forward
- CAMEROON FLORIDA A&M Rattlers ADKINS AKINI #33 Forward
- CAMEROON ORAL ROBERTS Golden Eagles MOSES EHAMBE #13 Guard-Forward
- DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO OGUNOYE YEMI #3 Guard-Forward
- NIGERIA CREIGHTON Bluejays NENGSU BRICE #24 Guard
- CAMEROONUNLV Rebels GASTON ESSENGUE #52 Forward
- CAMEROON MICHAEL UMEH #3 Guard
- NIGERIA CENTRAL CONNECTICUT STATE Blue Devils OBIE NWADIKE #5 Forward
- NIGERIA OREGON Ducks CHAMBERLAIN OGUCHI #25 Guard
- NIGERIA CHURCHILL ODIA #13 Guard
- NIGERIAGONZAGA Bulldogs ABDULLAHI KUSO #31 Forward
- NIGERIAGEORGIA TECH Yellow Jackets MOUHAMMAD FAYE #11 Forward
- SENEGAL ALADE AMINU #44 Forward-Center
- SENEGAL VIRGINIA Cavaliers MAMADI DIANE #24 Guard-Forward
- GUINEA TUNJI SOROYE #21 Center
- NIGERIAVIRGINIA TECH Hokies CHEICK DIAKITE #34 Forward
- MALIMARQUETTE Golden Eagles OUSMANE BARRO #41 Forward
- SENEGAL MICHIGAN STATE Spartans IDONG IBOK #0 Center
- NIGERIAOLD DOMINION Monarchs ABDI LIDONDE #11 Guard
- KENYA ARNAUD DAHI #31 Forward
- IVORY COAST SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA Trojans ABDOULAYE N'DIAYE #21 Center
- SENEGALUp and Coming Players (not in the NCAA tournament this year)RUTGERS Scarlet KnightsHAMADY N'DIAYE #5 Center
- SENEGALCONNECTICUT HuskiesHASHEEM THABEET #34 Center