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From an African seminary to the NBA finals

Keith Allison - CC2

J-P Mauro - published on 06/07/19

The Toronto Raptors' Pascal Siakam was a reluctant seminarian, but now credits the experience for his success.

Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam has had a huge impact on the court which has helped the Raptors make it to their first NBA finals in team history. The 25-year-old had an unorthodox journey to the NBA, which is the most selective of all the mainstream sports, with under 500 spots spread across the entire league’s rosters. Pascal’s road to the finals began in the seminary.

Pascal began attending St. Andrew’s Seminary School in Bafia at only 11 years old. He was a good, albeit a reluctant, student who was not very interested in discerning a vocation, but he honored his father, who’s wish it was that he study hard.

As a restless boy, Pascal marked his time in seminary with a habit of rule breaking, which he hoped would see him dismissed by the seminary’s director, Father Armel Collins Ndjama. ESPN spoke with Father Collins about Pascal’s time as a student:

“He turned from a very calm child into a very stubborn boy. At times, I considered dismissing him, but his academic results were so remarkable, we kept him.”

While Siakam was most likely not thrilled by this decision at the time, he now believes that the seminary had a profound impact on the man he became. He said the discipline instilled in him has helped him succeed in the college and professional levels.

The discipline comes from the seminary’s rigid structure, which begins with early morning Mass, chores, classes, and then more Mass.

The students at St. Andrew’s were afforded one hour of recreation per day and the majority of the students preferred soccer to anything else. The campus had a basketball court, but it was in dire need of repair.

Pascal was among those who gravitated towards soccer, but his natural height and athletic ability lent itself so well to basketball that he began attending camps for the sport, first locally, then in South Africa. CNA reports the NBA forward says that he didn’t really desire to attend the South African camp, but it afforded him an opportunity to visit his sister who lived nearby.

In a twist that seems like divine design, the boy who was reluctant to attend both seminary and camp was discovered by scouts while playing in the South African camp and was recruited to play basketball in the U.S..

Unfortunately, Siakam’s father never got to see him play on the main stage, as he died in 2014, just when the basketball star was beginning his career at New Mexico State University. Pascal says his father’s guidance has never left him and although he tried to get kicked out of seminary, he now considers it to be, “the best thing that ever happened to [him].”

Siakam still honors his father, and God, each time he enters the arena, by crossing himself and pointing to the sky. Of course the cross is the symbol of his faith, but  the finger point is meant for his father, whom he calls “the best man [he] ever knew.”

He credits seminary with his formation as an adult. As the youngest child in his family, he was doted upon and few demands were placed on him. Pascal says that before seminary he could not make his own bed, wash dishes, or even do his own laundry.

Seminary “helped me focus on myself and try to better myself and work hard for what I wanted,” he said in a Woj Pod podcast. “It could have been easy for me to be the type of kid that didn’t work for what he wanted, ’cause as a kid, I had everything I needed.”

Although seminary did not teach him the sport, it taught him valuable life lessons like a strong work ethic, self-discipline, confidence, and teamwork.

“I think I know why my dad made me go,” he wrote in 2016 on The Players’ Tribune. “He was giving me all the tools I’d need to succeed. Just as important as his dream for his son to play in the NBA was his desire for me to become my own man.”

The Raptors, who have only made the playoffs 10 times since 1995, are currently in the finals for the first time in team history. They are currently ahead of the Golden State Warriors, 2-1, and will continue the seven-game series tonight. If they win the next game they will only need one more win to be crowned the NBA champions.

Perhaps Siakam’s discovery was the answer to the prayers of all NBA fans outside of California who would love a way to best Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors, the team that has appeared in the last five NBA finals and won three of these titles. It is quite possible that the only way to beat Curry’s unbelievable 3-point shot is through divine intervention.

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