Cameroon will be competing in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournaments (OQTs) for the first time since 2008, after beating Senegal 80-74 at the Olympic Pre-Qualifying Tournament Final in Lagos, Nigeria.
By beating Senegal they picked up their first-ever men’s continental basketball championship, having previously finished runners-up at the 2007 FIBA AfroBasket in Angola where they lost 86-72 to the hosts in the final.
The Cameroon team celebrate after their victory against Senegal
However this new crop of Cameroonian talent have already gone one step further than their predecessors and are now looking to qualify for their first-ever men’s Olympic basketball tournament.
Small Forward Roland L’Amour Nyama, who plays his basketball domestically for German side JobStairs GIESSEN 46ers in the Basketball Bundesliga, spoke about what it would mean if Cameroon were to qualify for the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris.
He said, “It would mean a lot to us because we’re all essentially like kids with a dream that first seems unachievable, and for us even to get to the qualifying tournament let’s people of Cameroonian descent know that work hard, your dreams become achievable.”
Roland L’Amour Nyama in action for Cameroon during FIBA Olympic Pre-Qualifying
“Getting to the Olympics would also just inspire so many kids back at home, and showcase that there is so much talent in our country.
“There’re so many Cameroonian kids hidden in Europe. Hidden in Douala behind a soccer goal who don’t know that they could be the next Joel Embiid or Pascal Siakam.
“I’ve seen it with Germany, Germany was world champion a couple weeks ago and now every kid wants to play basketball.”
Germany won the 2023 FIBA World Cup, beating Serbia 83-77 in the final in Manila
“Maybe us getting to the qualifying tournament and God willing we make it to the Olympics, can inspire the next generation, and also it’s just a great story to tell my kid.”
The diamonds in the rough
There is certainly no shortage of talent in Cameroon, as they are the only African country with two active NBA All-Stars. In fact, the current NBA Most Valuable Player (MVP) Joel Embiid is Cameroonian, and only started playing basketball at the age of 15.
Current NBA MVP Joel Embiid
Embiid, who has had an extremely successful NBA career so far is a seven-time NBA All-Star, a five-time All-NBA Team member and a two-time NBA Scoring Champion.
He was discovered at a basketball camp held in Cameroon by Luc Mbah a Moute. A former NBA player himself, Mbah a Moute also discovered the former Toronto Raptors Power forward Pascal Siakam.
Pascal Siakam in action for the Toronto Raptors
Siakam is an NBA Champion, a two-time NBA All-Star, a two-time All-NBA Team member and won the NBA Most Improved Player Award in 2019.
Embiid and Siakam are both perfect examples of what can happen when talent meets opportunity, but the harsh reality is that opportunities still remain scarce for many kids in Cameroon.
Luc Mbah a Moute, the man who discovered Joel Embiid and Pascal Siakam
Growing the game in Cameroon
The Basketball Africa League (BAL), which is the premier men’s basketball competition in Africa, is currently without a team from Cameroon.
The truth is basketball still has a lot of growth to do in Cameroon. According to Roland L’Amour, “It has to become more accessible, there has to be a lot less pay to play because being a member of a club, shoes, equipment, and courts all costs money.
“You’ve got to have a little bit more infrastructure within the country because some of these kids come from pretty bad conditions and in order to grow the game it has to become more inclusive that way.”
Despite being without a BAL team, former NBA All-Star Joakim Noah, who’s grandfather Zacharie Noah was a professional Cameroonian footballer, built a basketball court in Cameroon which hosts BAL games.
Noah won the NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2014
Alongside this, Noah also invested in the BAL in an attempt to change the narrative around African basketball. He told ESPN’s Marc J. Spears that:
“This league is giving kids a belief system where they don’t have to leave the continent, their roots, or their family. They can just look at beautiful stadiums, beautiful courts — very similar to the ones that are in the NBA — and have them in the motherland. And that’s a very, very strong message, not just for people around the world, but also for Africans.”
Kylian Mbappé, who is also of Cameroonian descent, with Noah at his newly-opened basketball court in Yaoundé, Cameroon
The current crop of Cameroon basketball players have undoubtedly inspired many kids back at home.
Whether they make it to the Olympics or not, there is a future Joel Embiid and Pascal Siakam somewhere on Cameroonian soil who picked up a basketball because of what Roland L’Amour and his teammates did at the Olympic Pre-Qualifying Tournament.
But more importantly, the work of trailblazers such as Joakim Noah will help these future diamonds be uncovered.