Since the NBA Academy programs were launched in October 2016, more than 15 of its students have committed to play D1 NCAA basketball.
NBA Academy is built in part from the success of Basketball Without Borders, which started in 2001 and has since seen approximately 70 alumni in the NBA. It is an all-encompassing and highly competitive boarding school for young student-athletes like Marouf Moumine, who is originally from Cameroon and now attends NBA Academy in Senegal.
The 6-foot-5 guard ended up making headlines in 2018 after the inaugural Jr. NBA Global Championship – a tournament very similar to the Little League World Series in that it brings together the best young basketball talent from around the world. Then just 13 years old, he recorded a 28-point, 21-rebound, 12-assist triple-double in the international finals.
“My motivation is my father and my family,” Moumine told HoopsHype, through a translator, when he visited New York. “My father used to play competitive basketball as well as competitive soccer. He told me that he thought I could make it as a basketball player. I want to make him proud.”
But he also received a little bit of motivation from Dwyane Wade, who was there to watch the tournament in Florida.
“Before I spoke with D-Wade, I was very upset because my team just lost in the international finals,” he explained. “He said I worked hard, played hard and had lots of potential as a player and that’s what it takes to make the NBA. For me to hear that from someone like him was really encouraging because if he believes in me then I really do have a shot.”
After the Jr. NBA Global Championship in 2018, Moumine was scouted by and accepted into the NBA Academy. He credits the academy for helping with his studies off the court as well as his discipline and work ethic on the court.
NBA Academy has been working on their credentialed “basketball-driven” boarding school for nearly three years. They have various academies around the world – including three in China, one in Mexico City, one in Africa and one in India. Their global academy in Australia, a pinnacle of its pyramid, is partnered with the Centre of Excellence in Melbourne.
They focus on identifying young international talent and helping them reach their highest possible potential. It is funded by owners around the league as an investment in the future of the game.
The NBA previously sat back and let high schools, colleges, pro clubs, agents and national teams develop basketball players without any of its own involvement. But without the infrastructure for the sport in places like India, a more proactive approach to development would be beneficial to all parties.
Brooks Meek, who was the vice president of international basketball operations and head of elite basketball for the NBA, told HoopsHype the league spent two years meeting with soccer academies in Spain and England as well as the academies from the MLB in the Dominican Republic to get a better understanding of what has worked best on their end.
“We tried to take the best assets and traits of the programs and put it together in an NBA way,” Meek explained. “We are teaching the game in a way that is not for wins and losses, but development. Our whole mission is to invest in a child’s 360-degree development with basketball as the driver.”
Once at the NBA Academy, the players also complete academic requirements to ensure they can get accepted into any NCAA program they may want to attend. That means they take the core courses and meet GPA requirements while preparing for standardized tests and mastering the English language.
They also offer a holistic basketball curriculum, including individual and team skill development, psychology and nutrition. They use innovations including wearable technology and ball-tracking with help from their Nike partnership.
“We are really trying to build the whole package with these young athletes and Marouf is really such a great example of that,” said Chris Ebersole, who oversees elite basketball development for the NBA. “He’s obviously excelled on the court, everyone can see that. But the way he leads and the way that he exemplifies those values using the game has jumped off the page to us.”
Moumine was named Player of the Game in the title victory for NBA Academy Africa during the European Youth Basketball League CE Junior Championship in March 2019.
After another year with the NBA Academy, Moumine competed at the Jr. NBA Global Championship again in August 2019. He averaged 22.7 points, 11.1 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game and for the second year in a row, he won the Determination Award – which recognizes the player who consistently dedicated the time, energy and work ethic needed to excel as not only players but as people.
“That really speaks to his character and what an exceptional young man he is,” Ebersole said. “He is really the type of athlete that you can project not just with his physical tools and skills but also his work ethic and leadership. He is going to continue to develop and rise quickly.”
Other recent successes include Princepal Singh, who made the senior men’s national team from India. The 6-foot-10 power forward attended Ludhiana Basketball Academy and averaged 22.7 points with 13.0 rebounds per game at the U16 Asia Championship in 2018.
Meanwhile, Nigerian-born Timothy Ighoefe from NBA Academy Africa will be a freshman at Georgetown and play for 11-time All-Star Patrick Ewing. Last season, Argentinian-born Francisco Caffaro (formerly of NBA Global Academy in Australia) was a redshirt freshman at Virginia when they won the national title.
Han Xu, a 6-foot-9 center from China that attended NBA Academy, was recently selected with the No. 14 overall pick in the 2019 WNBA Draft.
As the basketball world becomes more aware that this is a viable option for kids around the globe, it can be used as a bridge to help young players reach their dreams.
“I would love to live here one day,” said Moumine. “I will give everything to play in this type of environment.”