Tall Talent: Africa’s Basketball Stars

Forbes Africa
Published 12 days ago
Basketball dribble

The National Basketball Association (NBA) draft is always an exciting time of the year when teams in the greatest league on earth get to refresh their squads with the best young talent available. FORBES AFRICA takes a look at the eight players who were part of this season’s draft, some of who have gone straight to their new franchises, while others will earn experience elsewhere with the long-term goal in mind.

By Nick Said

Africa has a deep-rooted legacy in the NBA and provided star names in the past such as Hakeem Olajuwon, Dikembe Mutombo, Manute Bol and Luol Deng. This year, we got to see a new crop of players with ties to the continent, who have set their sights on fame and glory on the court. Here they are: 

Christian Koloko 
Draft: Selected 33rd overall by the Toronto Raptors 

(Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images)

Koloko became the first Cameroonian selected in the NBA draft sinceToronto’s Pascal Siakam in 2016 and is the third highest drafted player from the Central African country of all time behind the latter and Joel Embiid, who was third in 2014.  Born in Douala, the 22-year-old was spotted at the Basketball Without Borders (BWB) Africa talent scouting camp in Senegal in 2017, and was taken to the United States where he played for Birmingham High School, despite speaking no English.  The center later featured for the University of Arizona before being drafted by Toronto.  

Yannick Nzosa 
Draft: Selected 54th overall by the Washington Wizards 

(Photo by Flaviu Buboi/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Nzosa was only 18 when he was drafted by Washington Wizards, who have sent him to Spanish side Real Betis to get experience in the 2022/23 season. Soccer was his first love and he started as a goalkeeper given his tremendous height, before being spotted by the coach of a local basketball club in Kinshasa. 
He attempted to go to an academy in Spain as a 13-year-old, but was denied a visa, and instead went to Stella Azzurra Roma, though he later was controversially taken to Spain by his mentor Joe Lolonga without the Italian club’s permission.   He made his debut for his new side Unicaja at the age of 16 and was an instant hit, even if injury has slowed his progress recently. 

 
Ousmane Dieng 
Draft: Selected 11th overall by the New York Knicks 

(Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

Dieng’s family are from Senegal, though the shooting guard was born in France and has had a circular route to the NBA.  He moved to New Zealand Breakers in 2021 and competed in the National Basketball League (NBL). While there he joined the league’s Next Stars program which specifically looks to develop NBA draft prospects. It worked as he was snapped by the New York Knicks ahead of the 2022/23 season, though he was immediately traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder. He is still only 19. 

  

Khalifa Diop 
Draft: Selected 39th overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers 

Photo by Alberto Gardin/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The 20-year-old from Guereo, Senegal, is another who has been making a name in Spain, where he plays forGran Canaria. He was drafted for the Cleveland Cavaliers but has been sent back to Gran Canaria to gain experience during the 2022/23 season. The center, who stands at an impressive 2.11 meters tall, first rose to prominence in the Basketball Without Borders (BWB) game at the NBA All-Star match in 2019. 
 
Ochai Agbaji 
Draft: Selected 14th overall by the Washington Wizards 

(Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

Agbaji’s father, Olofu, moved from Nigeria to the United States when he was 17 in order to play basketball for the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, though initially he encouraged his son to play soccer. 
But when Ochai grew nine inches in a single year it became clear he had all the attributes to be a top baller and was a star for the University of Kansas. 
The shooting guard was selected in the draft by the Washington Wizards, but they traded him to Utah Jazz in September before the season started. There he plays alongside fellow Nigerian Udoka Azubuike.  
 
Mark Williams 
Draft: Selected 15th overall by the Charlotte Hornets 

Center Williams was selected by Charlotte Hornets in the draft but is spending the season with their affiliate side Greensboro Swarm. He is an alumnus of Duke University and starred for them, catching the eye of a number of teams around the country. Williams’ older sister Elizabeth is a star of the Women’s NBA and his parents are both doctors who emigrated from Nigeria. 

 
Moussa Diabate 
Draft: Selected 43rd overall by the Los Angeles Clippers 

(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Diabate’s parents are from Mali and Guinea, and he was snapped by Los Angeles Clippers in the draft after shining for the University of Michigan. He has been sent to affiliate club Ontario Clippers, where he will spend the 2022/23 season as he makes his way in the game. Diabate was part of the Basketball Without Borders (BWB) game at the NBA All-Star match in 2020. 

 
Ismaël Kamagate 
Draft: Selected 46th overall by the Detroit Pistons 

Kamagate will play the 2022/23 season with Paris Basketball having been loaned back to them by his new NBA employers Denver Nuggets.  In a snapshot of how complex things can get in the NBA, Detroit Pistons selected the 21-year-old in the draft having scouted him in the French league, where he has been a star. But they immediately traded him to Portland Trail Blazers, who then traded Kamagate again to the Denver Nuggets, who have now sent him to Paris. Born to Ivorian parents, he was named best defender in the French competition in 2022.