Reports of Emmanuel Mudiay signing a one-year, $1.2 million deal to play in China rehashed the question of whether high school graduates would prefer to venture overseas instead of college. But this is not the trend that I am referring to. Neither is the recent influx of Canadian stars who have infiltrated the first round of the NBA Draft.
The sensations that I speak of all hail from the world’s second largest continent; in the form of one NBA star, a potential difference maker and two future top five prospects.
For better or for worse — until 2008 — Africa had not produced a relevant baller since Luol Deng four years prior. However, before the Chicago Bulls made the two-time All-Star the No. 7 pick, it had been almost a decade and a half since a quality star surfaced. And no, Michael Olowokandi and Yinka Dare do not count as quality.
Hakeem Olajuwon, Dikembe Mutombo and — to a certain extent — Manute Bol were the greats who gave future generations hope that they could thrive in a league of doubters.
But before I go on and it gets taking out of context, I say for better because the 13-year lapse between when Mutombo was drafted and Deng was picked gave people the opportunity to properly appreciate that Olajuwon was one of the greatest centers to grace the court. Which he proved by carrying the Houston Rockets to two championships, while Mutombo played defensive anchor for two other Finals teams; with both men retiring No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in all-time total career blocked shots.
This is way before youngsters were flocking to Houston every summer to learn “The Dream’s” fancy moves and graceful footwork. And eons before people knew Mutombo’s finger wag for swatting away letters in GEICO commercials.
It was also for the better because the absence of noteworthy peers has allowed the light to shine brighter on the continent’s newest crop of skilled imports.
For example, 6-foot-10 center Serge Ibaka has been a shot-blocking machine who quietly extended his range out to the three-point line. He also showed how vital he was to the Oklahoma City Thunder when an injury forced him to miss the first two losses of the Western Conference Finals, only to make his team look dominant by putting up 15 points (6-of-7), seven rebounds and four of his two-time league leading blocks against the San Antonio Spurs in an adrenaline filled Game 3 return.
Up next is a 20-year-old Cameroonian 7-footer who spent most of his freshman year being compared to a player that he watched tape of and studied. Not only did Joel Embiid mimic Olajuwon’s footwork, fluid offensive movements and early back injury, he showed during pre-Draft workouts that he naturally tied in the jumper of Ibaka and the defensive skills of his basketball forefathers.
For as much attention as Canada received for having the top players picked in 2013 and 2014, it’s no secret that if Embiid did not break his foot he would have trumped his Kansas teammate (Andrew Wiggins) for the main spot. In the meantime he is taking Twitter by storm with his comical sense for poking at fellow peers.
There’s no doubt that he will eventually heal, while a pair of natives flex their vice grip on future top five selections.
Mudiay’s athleticism and 6-foot-5 frame will likely keep him as the same general manager’s dream that he was when his eyes were still set on being a college point guard. And 7-foot-1 Sudanese native, Thon Maker‘s growing legend has made him as a virtual lock for NBA superstardom — whether he chooses to reclassify and graduate early or enter the pros in 2017.
Don’t blame it on hype either, the newly-minted 11th grader has a skill set that includes blocking shots, smooth ball handling and a Kevin Durant like three-point stroke.
The next generation is proving to have uncanny talent coming down the pipeline. Just check out ESPN‘s latest post on Bol’s 6-foot-5 seventh-grade son Bol Bol. It’s the new wave.