LAS VEGAS – The 2-year-old Basketball Africa League hopes to one day to have former players, coaches and referees making a name for themselves in the NBA. The BAL took its next step toward realizing its dream by having one player, two coaches and one referee take part in the NBA 2K23 Summer League in July.
“It’s about building capacity,” BAL president Amadou Fall told Andscape during the Vegas Summer League. “We have to continue to get better on all levels. It all starts with how we develop the coaches, officiating and the players. We want to continue to develop elite players, and there is no better place to do that than summer league.”
Egypt Zamalek center Anas Mahmoud was the first from the BAL to play in the NBA summer league, suiting up for the Toronto Raptors last year. The Milwaukee Bucks’ Summer League roster in July included Evans Ganapamo, who played for the Cape Town Tigers of South Africa during the 2022 BAL season.
Two BAL head coaches served as assistant coaches during the NBA summer league: the Cameroon Forces Armeés et Police’s Francois Enyegue (Bucks), and Emmanuel Mavomo of Espoir Fukash, who also led the Democratic Republic of the Congo team (Raptors). Rwandan referee Jean Sauveur Ruhamiriza, who officiated the first two BAL seasons, also refereed in the NBA summer league.
The 12-team Basketball Africa League debuted in 2021 after being delayed for a year due to the coronavirus pandemic and finished its second season in May. The BAL is expected to again have games in Dakar, Senegal; Cairo; and Kigali, Rwanda, during the 2023 season, according to sources. The NBA hopes that the BAL will develop players, coaches and referees who will join the league one day.
While playing a role in the selection process, Fall described the BAL presence at the NBA summer league this month as a “huge surprise” to those selected.
“We didn’t really let them in on anything,” Fall said. “Our goal is to have a greater presence here. But we are grateful for the opportunity from the teams who have welcomed our people. It’s a big honor. It gives them more motivation.”
The Bucks enthusiastically reached out to Fall after the 2022 BAL season looking for suggestions about adding a player and assistant coach to their 2022 summer league roster. After Fall and the Bucks discussed several candidates, general manager Jon Horst and his staff settled on Ganapamo and Enyegue.
“Everyone has guest coaches during summer league,” Horst told Andscape. “You do a favor for an agent, or you do a favor for a player. That is part of the summer league culture to have a roster spot or a coaching staff spot to do something to help somebody. The more I thought about it, I said, ‘What are we doing, guys? The Basketball Africa League is what we should be trying to do something with.’ We believe in it as [a] grassroots growing market for us …
“I said, ‘Let’s reach out to Gallo to get a player and a coach to be part of our summer league staff. You’re the expert. We are not.’ ”
Ganapamo is a native of Mandeville, Louisiana. His parents are from Central African Republic, and he grew up in an African household. The 6-7 small forward played in college for the University of New Orleans and historically Black Prairie View A&M. Ganapamo has played professionally for Germany Rosenheim, Paris and for the Central African Republic national team. The 27-year-old small forward averaged 16.2 points as a member of the Cape Town Tigers team that made the 2022 BAL playoffs in its first season playing in the league this year.
Horst said the Bucks have been scouting the BAL and were familiar with Ganapamo, who first heard about the Bucks’ interest from Fall. Ganapamo ended up appearing in one of the Bucks’ five summer league games this month.
“I’m trying to learn from the guys, and the Milwaukee Bucks staff,” Ganapamo said recently to Andscape. “I’m trying to get better as a basketball player and a person. You never know what comes out of this, but we will see. But I feel I can play at a high level. We will see.”
Horst was also proud to add Enyegue as an assistant coach to the Bucks’ summer league coaching staff as well. The Cameroon native was promoted to head coach for Forces Armeés et Police after serving as an assistant coach during the inaugural BAL season in 2021. Enyegue led the team to the Final Four of the BAL last month in Kigali, Rwanda, before losing to third-place finisher and 2021 BAL champion Zamalek of Egypt.
Although Enyegue’s first language is French, English is his second language and he speaks the game of basketball very well. Ganapamo also helped Enyegue with any needed translation.
“I am very happy to be here,” Enyegue said to Andscape. “It’s a dream come true. I hope that other BAL coaches can have the experience of summer league to participate. I am very excited. The opportunity is great. Thank you to the BAL, NBA, and Milwaukee Bucks.
“Amadou is a very good person. He gives opportunity to young players and coaches in Africa and brings them to the U.S. for this experience.”
Said Horst of Enyegue: “It’s such a global game that people in our culture are used to working across different cultures and different barriers. There are a lot of ways to communicate. Basketball is its own language. [A] One-on-one situation could be challenging. But on the floor, he’s in his element. He’s a coach.”