African girls have hoop dreams

Dakar (AFP) –


Around 20 girls from eight African countries will hope to press their claims to a lucrative career in the United States at a training camp in Dakar this weekend as part of the 'NBA Academy' initiative.

The players, all aged at least 17, will be put through their paces by WNBA veterans Ruth Riley (a two-time WNBA champion and 2004 Olympic Games gold medallist in Athens), Jennifer Azzi (a 1996 Olympic champion) as well as African stars Hamchetou Maiga-Ba (Mali), Astou Ndiaye (Senegal) and Clarisse Machanguana (Mozambique).

"It's really just a lot of hard work. You have to work every day. Basketball is a game of repetition so you can't, like, slack. There is no slacking," said Bineta Diatta, a Senegalese teenager who has already developed an American speech pattern.

Similar NBA Academy camps are being staged in Australia, China and India before the end of the year.

"I've seen the progress of basketball here, especially for the young ladies," said Riley.

"I mean they are just now given this opportunity to play a sport, and when you watch them, they are hungry to learn. They love the fact that we're here, that we believe in them. We want them to leave the court not only with basketball knowledge but to understand that it's a pathway for their education, for a better life."

International body FIBA and the NBA have staged 53 Basketball Without Borders camps in 33 cities across 27 countries on six continents since 2001 and more than 50 former attendees have been drafted into the NBA or signed as free agents with teams in the North American league.