Most NBA stars get a basketball in their hands from the moment they can walk, if not before. The new face of the Toronto Raptors, Pascal Siakam, didn’t set foot on the court until he was already 16 years old. It set his life on an entirely different track. Within a decade, he would hold the NBA Championship trophy in his hands.
How Siakam came to play in the NBA not a particularly familiar one. Growing up in Cameroon, he wasn’t immediately surrounded by NBA scouts. He didn’t have high school stardom. It’s not until he picked up the game late that he suddenly realized that the game of basketball filled in the missing link he always felt he had.
Pascal Siakam’s upbringing in Cameroon
Siakam’s father Tchamo Siakam had high expectations for his four sons. The older three, he recognized for their immense athletic talent. The youngest, Pascal, he thought had a unique charisma. He wanted him to join a Catholic seminary and become a priest.
According to Business Insider, Pascal followed through on his father’s wishes. As his brothers explored athletics, he focused on studying, learning the Bible, and improving as a public speaker.
He was diligent for years, until he turned 15. He became unmoored, drawn to try something entirely different. At 16, he found his reason for being, when he decided to enroll in a basketball camp his brothers attended.
How Pascal Siakam went from the seminary to the basketball court
If Tchamo was disappointed, he didn’t show it. He pushed his son to take basketball as seriously as he wanted him to take his seminary work.
Pascal’s ripped through the ranks of world basketball, landing a scholarship with Basketball Without Borders to attend the University of New Mexico. It was during this time that fellow Cameroonian, NBA scout Luc Mbah a Moute first saw Siakam play.
The Siakam family’s serious approach to their chosen professions paid off handsomely. After three years there, he was good enough to get picked 27th overall in 2016 by the Toronto Raptors. Sadly, Tchamo wasn’t there to see that momentous moment. He died in an auto accident in 2014.
Fast track to an NBA Finals win in Toronto
The 2019 NBA Finals were a remarkable story of things going right for Siakam’s Raptors just as often as they went wrong for the Golden State Warriors. Kevin Durant was already out with a calf injury, came back strong for a fraction of game five, then fell with an Achilles injury.
Klay Thompson tore his ACL in game six. Meanwhile, Kawhi Leonard played long minutes with uninterrupted focus.
The Warriors’ role players were unable to fill the gaps left by their fallen stars. Meanwhile, each game seemed to showcase a different underrated Raptors player take the reins. Wherever Leonard wasn’t, someone like the Fred VanVleet — who went undrafted in 2016 — was there to fill in the negative space.
It was Siakam who set this tone in the first game of the series. Going in, expectations were a fierce bout between Leonard and Golden State’s stars. Instead, Siakam was arguably the best player on the court. His eye-popping 82.4 percent field goal percentage, according to NBA.com, immediately put the nation’s eyes on the young Cameroonian.
Crucial to his emergence as a star was how he did it: Mainly in the post, breaking with the sniper shots that mostly define the modern NBA. It cemented Siakam as the new face of the post-Leonard Raptors. Hopefully, as the pandemic subsides, we’ll see him cement his position in that role soon.