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FEATURE: African players in the NBA
KingFut profiles and discusses the top African NBA players, their careers, and future outlook in the National Basketball Association.
African players in the NBA have enjoyed a storied history, with players such as Dr Congo’s Dikembo Mutombo and Nigeria’s Hakeem Olajuwon often being lauded as two of the best big men in the history of the league. Egypt’s Alaa Abdelnaby enjoyed a six-year NBA career, playing for the Trail Blazers, Celtics, Bucks, Kings, and 76ers.
There are many players in the NBA with African descent who chose to play for other countries, such as Andre Igoudala, who chose to play for the USA instead of his father’s Nigeria, or Serge Ibaka, a Spain national who is Republic of Congo born-and-raised. Even legend Steve Nash, who played for Canada, was eligible for South Africa.
However, there are several current NBA talents who ply their international trade for their home countries or remain eligible to do so.
1. Al Farouq Aminu
Aminu is coming off the best season of his NBA career. The Nigerian small forward played an important role for the Portland Trail Blazers, who managed to qualify for the playoffs, before ultimately falling to the Golden State Warriors. Playing in all 82 games this season, Aminu averaged 10.2 points per game while shooting 36% from the three-point line.
Aminu was born in Atlanta, Georgia, and played college basketball for two years at Wake Forest University in North Carolina. He was ultimately drafted 8th overall by the Los Angeles Clippers. He was traded the following year to the New Orleans Hornets, where he played for three years. He signed for the Dallas Mavericks in 2014, playing there for one year before joining Portland this season.
Internationally, Aminu has represented Nigeria. He represented D’Tigers in the 2012 Summer Olympics and led them to the 2015 FIBA African Championship Title.
2. Bismack Biyombo
Like Aminu, Biyombo is coming off the best season of his short NBA career. The DR Congo center was an integral component of a strong Toronto Raptors team, averaging 5.5 points per game and 8 rebounds per game throughout the season. However, during the playoffs is when Bismack really came along. He started 10 of 20 games, due to the injury of the Raptors starting center. He drew plaudits by many analysts and fellow professionals, all commending his stellar defensive play and rebounding.
Against Lebron James’s Cleveland Cavaliers, in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals, Bismack set a Raptors playoff record by grabbing 26 rebounds in one game.
Biyombo was born in Congo, but he moved to Spain when he was 17 to train and play basketball. In 2009, he was selected 7th overall by the Sacramento Kings, but he was immediately traded to the Charlotte Hornets. He did not choose to play in the NBA until 2011, when he finally debuted for the Hornets, playing their for four years before joining Toronto in 2015.
His exceptional play throughout the playoffs has led to many analysts expecting him to land a lucrative multi-year deal with another team. The Los Angeles Lakers have been rumored to be interested in tapping the potential of this up-and-coming star.
He has not yet represented Congo internationally, but he remains eligible as he has not represented Spain, either.
3. Salah Mejri
The Tunisian Tower completed his first NBA season this year with the Dallas Mavericks, alternating between sporadic minutes to full-fledged starter throughout the season.
Mejri began his career with Tunisia’s Etoile du Sahel, before moving to Antwerp in 2010. Two years later, he moved to Spai to play for Obradoiro CAB. After one year with Obradoiro, Mejri was named the Rising Star of the league. Shortly after, he signed for Real Madrid, becoming the first Arabic player to represent the club. They went on to win the Euroleague, Spanish League Championship, and the King’s Cup.
Mejri left Madrid that year and signed for the Dallas Mavericks of the NBA. In his best game of the season, the Tower played 25 minutes, scored 17 points, and grabbed 9 rebounds.
He has represented Tunisia throughout his career, making his debut in 2009. That same year, he helped Tunisia win a bronze medal at the FIBA Africa Championship. Two years later, Tunisia won the gold medal at the next edition of the tournament, and Mejri was named MVP. in 2015, Tunisia won a bronze medal in that edition, held in Libya.
4. Gorgui Dieng
The Senegalese big man formed a formidable combination with Karl Anthony-Towns for the Minnesota Timberwolves this season. Gorgui averaged 10.1 points and 7.1 rebounds per game in his third season in the league.
Dieng was born and raised in Senegal, but he moved to the USA for his final year of high school. He was highly recruited out of college and subsequently chose to play for Louisville, the same college at which Egyptian Anas Mahmoud currently plies his trade. In 2013, he won the NCAA Championship with the Cardinals.
After winning the championship, Dieng declared for the NBA, and he was drafted 21st overall by the Timberwolves and quickly earned a starting position for the young team.
Dieng has represented Senegal internationally. He averaged 16.0 points and 10.7 rebounds in the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup.
5. Emmanuel Mudiay
The DR Congo point guard showed his potential with the Denver Nuggets, averaging 12.8 points in his first season in the NBA. Mudiay was born in Kinshasa, before being granted asylum in the USA in 2011.
Mudiay played his high school basketball in Texas, where he was often lauded as ‘the next big thing.’ He originally committed to play for Southern Methodist University in the NCAA. However, he backtracked and decided to take a new route – playing professionally in China for a year before declaring for the NBA. Playing for Guangdong in China, Mudiay took the league by storm. He averaged 18.0 points and 6.3 rebounds per game as an 18-year-old.
Mudiay declared for the NBA after one year in China, and he was drafted 7th overall by the Denver Nuggets.
Mudiay has yet to represent DR Congo internationally.
6. Festus Ezeli
A former NBA Champion, Festus Ezeli is due for a big pay day this summer. The Nigerian center has helped the Golden State Warriors to two consecutive NBA final appearances, and this year he really showed his potential. He scored 7.0 points per game in 16 minutes per game in the 2015-2016 season.
Ezeli was born in Benin City, Nigeria, before being sent to the US to live his uncle when he was 14 to study to become a doctor. He began playing basketball in high school and ultimately attended Vanderbilt University for four years.
Ezeli was selected 30th overall by the Golden State Warriors in the 2012 NBA Draft. He has mostly served as a backup to Andrew Bogut since then, but he was landed some sporadic starts. In the 2015-2016, Ezeli helped the Warriors break a record for most wins in a season – 73. With his impressive performances this season, he has been tipped to receive a lucrative contract this offseason, with the Lakers also apparently willing to drop big bucks for the talented big man.
Ezeli has yet to represent his home country internationally, but he remains eligible.
7. Luc Mbah a Moute
The versatile Cameroonian forward started 61 games for the Los Angeles Clippers, the second most of his nine-year NBA career.
Mbah a Moute was born in Yaounde, Cameroon, before going to high school in Florida. He committed to the UClA Bruins in the NCAA, where he had an immediate impact as a freshman; he was the conference freshman of the year in 2006. After three years at UCLA, Luc declared for the NBA and was selected 37th overall by the Milwaukee Bucks.
In his rookie season with the Bucks, Mbah a Moute showed his defensive prowess, and he was a fan favorite. He played four years for the Bucks before being traded to the Kings and then to the Timberwolves. He played 55 games for the Timberwolves, putting up unspectacular stats. He was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers at the end of the season, where he played the whole next season and had his best year of his career so far.
In 2015, Mbah a Moute signed for the Los Angeles Clippers and became a staple in their starting line-up, an impressive feat for a playoff team. Luc does represent Cameroon internationally, helping the Indomitable Lions win a silver medal in the 2007 FIBA African Championships.
8. Walter Tavares
The 7’3″ center has all the tools for a long career in the NBA. Born in Cape Verde, Tavares did not play basketball until the age of 17. He played 6 years in Spain before being drafted by the Atlanta Hawks with the 43rd pick in the 2014 NBA Draft.
Tavares is still a very raw prospect, but at his height and athleticism, he can certainly take the league by the horns one day. He is yet to represent Cape Verde internationally, but he eligible.