NBA Academy prospects take center stage in Las Vegas

Updated December 21, 2018 - 11:06 pm

Nigeria native Timothy Ighoefe is 6 feet, 11 inches tall and 240 pounds.

He runs with grace, rebounds with authority and can finish around the basket with the type of savvy typically reserved for veterans — or at least for the type of big men who have played basketball for more than, say, three years.

Wait until he gets to Georgetown.

Ighoefe, 18, committed in September to play college basketball for NBA legend turned Hoyas coach Patrick Ewing after spending two years at one of the international NBA Academies founded by the league in October 2016 to develop and provide opportunity for elite prospects outside the United States.

The future Georgetown center and 24 other NBA Academy attendees scrimmaged Friday at Mandalay Bay Convention Center before the G League Winter Showcase. For many of the prospects, it was a debut under the literal and metaphorical bright lights after months of training at facilities around the world.

“One of the main drivers, and a key focus for us within the program, is to play the best competition they can find,” said Brooks Meek, the NBA’s president of international basketball operations and head of elite basketball. “And put them in environments where they know they’re going to have to adjust. That’s how they grow.”

Since 2016, the league has launched seven basketball academies — three in China, one in Senegal, one in India, one in Mexico and one in Australia — that also focus on education, leadership and character development.

NBA Academy Africa technical director Roland Houston, who played college basketball at Rhode Island and professionally on the international level for 13 years, said the founding of the academies “makes sense as to try and expand the game.”

“The NBA has made a commitment to give these guys a 360-degree holistic experience,” Houston said. “This thing is just beginning, I think. We’re new. Obviously the NBA knows exactly what they’re doing, but it’s also a learning experience because we’re dealing with young kids.”

Ighoefe, for instance, grew up playing soccer and didn’t take up basketball until he had a growth spurt three years ago. He was invited to a basketball camp in Senegal, scouted and selected to attend an academy.

“I’m proud of him. When he came to us, he was very, very raw. Limited in his offensive skills particularly,” Houston said. “We tried our best in a short period of time to raise his IQ. To his credit, he was able to soak in all the information. … He’s embraced the fact that he wants to be a good basketball player.”

Ighoefe said getting a scholarship was a goal when he enrolled at the academy and emphasized his desire to study. Georgetown was the first school to recruit him, and he signed with the Hoyas in November, citing their loyalty to him.

Point guard Francisco Farabello, who played in the scrimmage Friday, is committed to Texas Christian, and UNLV freshman forward Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua graduated from an academy, too.

“Joining the academy, I think my whole life changed,” Ighoefe said. “This is a lifetime opportunity for me. For me, as a kid from Africa. we usually don’t get a lot of opportunities. If you get one, you don’t want to mess it up.”

Contact reporter Sam Gordon at sgordon@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BySamGordon on Twitter.

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