The NBA is full of superstars. Lebron James. Kevin Durant. Steph Curry. Kawhi Leonard.
The one thing that they all have in common? From grade school to high school to college, these were always players of exceptional talent and drive. Well before they hit the NBA, basketball fans saw them coming.
And then there are players like Pascal Siakam.
When he was selected 27th overall by the Toronto Raptors in 2016, the most common reaction was, huh?
Siakam played well for a small US college, but nothing about his play seemed to say 'superstar'. And yet only four years later, he is a reigning NBA champion who was just announced as a starter in the 2020 NBA All Star Game.
Yes, a starter — one of ten players across the entire league! How did this happen?
A change of heart, a lot of hard work... and a little Masai Ujiri.
An early look at a late bloomer
Growing up in the African nation of Cameroon, Pascal actually wanted to be a priest. It wasn't until he was fifteen that he decided to give hoops a try, which is super late for a pro basketball player to pick up the game. In 2012, he went to a camp called Basketball Without Borders — an international program designed to expose more kids to the sport. Apparently, it works!
One of the officials there was current Raptors president, Masai Ujiri. He immediately noticed how determined and athletic young Siakam was, even though he didn't yet have basketball skills. "His effort was memorable," he would say later in an interview.
And Ujiri would remember that effort four years later when he drafted him to play for Toronto.
Maybe he was coming all along
And now four years later, he's an All Star! From Cameroon basketball camp to the biggest league in the world. For those keeping score, here's a list of Siakam's accolades since deciding to move to the United States and give this basketball thing a shot.
- 2014-15: Western Athletic Conference Freshman of the Year (college)
- 2015–16: Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year (college)
- 2016: Selected in the first round of the NBA draft
- 2016–17: NBA D-League Finals MVP
- 2017–18: vital part of the Toronto Raptors 'bench mob'
- 2018–19: NBA Champion and NBA's Most Improved Player of the Year
- 2019–20: NBA All-Star Game Starter and...???
When you look at it all that way, it feels like Siakam was never in doubt! See his exceptional game for yourself in the video below. Congrats, Spicy P! You earned it all!