International Man of Basketball Pascal Siakam Just Made NBA History

Everything you need to know about the first Cameroonian player to play in the Finals

Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam. (Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty)
Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam. (Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty)
Toronto Star via Getty Images

When Pascal Siakam was drafted out of New Mexico State by the Toronto Raptors with the 27th pick of the 2016 NBA Draft, the then-reigning Western Athletic Conference player of the year had been playing basketball for less than a half decade.

A native of Douala in Cameroon, Siakam was enrolled at St. Andrews Seminary to study to be a priest at the age of 11 and didn’t start seriously playing ball until he tagged along with some friends to a basketball camp during a school break. That was right before he turned 18. You know how most athlete origin stories start with the player catching the bug when they’re really young? Yeah, not this one.

Never a fan of the sport even though his three brothers had all landed college scholarships thanks to their hoops prowess (Boris at Western Kentucky, Christian at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, James at Vanderbilt), Siakam showed potential at the camp and was invited back to attend the following year.

Following his second summer at the basketball camp, Siakam was selected to attend Basketball Without Borders and parlayed that opportunity into a scholarship to play at God’s Academy in Lewisville, Texas. A year later, he had impressed enough to secure a scholarship offer to New Mexico State.

Pascal Siakam playing for New Mexico State in 2016. (John Gurzinski/Getty)
Pascal Siakam playing for New Mexico State in 2016. (John Gurzinski/Getty)
Getty Images

Raptors president Masai Ujiri, a native of Nigeria, saw Siakam at that Basketball Without Borders camp in Africa and noticed the effort the uncoordinated teenager gave on the court. Even though Ujiri made a note to follow Siakam’s career, he had no idea how quickly the raw player’s game would grow.

“I will tell you honestly,’ when I saw Pascal in Basketball Without Borders [in 2012], I couldn’t even tell you if he was an NBA player,” Ujiri told ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan. “That’s how incredible his story is.”

Fast forward to last night in Toronto when Siakam, now 25, made history by becoming the first Cameroonian player to suit up in the NBA Finals. There have been other players from his country in the NBA before Siakam (including Joel Embiid, Luc Mbah a Moute, Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje), but none of them were able to advance as far in the postseason as the 6′ 9″ forward has in his third year in the league.

Siakam took full advantage of the moment in Game 1 against Golden State, putting his full range of talents and versatility on display against the Warriors while torching the defending champs for a team-high 32 points while shooting a blistering 82.4 percent from the field (14-17 FG, 2-3 3PT) and chipping in eight rebounds, five assists and two blocks.

At one point during the game, Siakam was so hot that he made 11 buckets in a row, the longest streak in the Finals in the past 20 seasons, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

“I didn’t even know if I really dreamed of being at this level,” Siakam said after the win. “I couldn’t even think about this moment because it wasn’t reachable for me.”

Even if he doesn’t hit a shot for the rest of the series — which isn’t likely — Siakam’s historic performance in Game 1 was a fitting cherry on top of a season-long sundae that will likely end with him winning the NBA’s Most Improved Player award.

That’s something neither Siakam nor Ujiri could have imagined when the rising star was learning the game at Basketball Without Borders.

“We all want to act like we know everything, but we don’t,” Ujiri said. That guy has been incredible. We all used to hold our breath when he took a 3-point shot. We all used to hold our breath sometimes when he went on the fast break. And now we can’t wait until he does that. Again, it’s preparation, it’s practice, it’s work ethic, it’s that mindset of winning and he has that mindset, too.”

In addition to Siakam, this edition of the NBA Finals includes international players from Canada (Chris Boucher), Spain (Marc Gasol), Britain (OG Anunoby), Congo (Serge Ibaka), Australia (Andrew Bogut) and Sweden (Jonas Jerebko).

It continues on Sunday night in Toronto when Siakam will attempt to lead the Raptors to a 2-0 series lead.

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