Fresh from a championship-winning season, Toronto Raptors director of global scouting and international affairs, Patrick Engelbrecht was in Africa this week to attend the finals of a Jr. NBA league, he had helped launch nine years ago.
During his visit, Engelbrecht, former NBA Africa technical director Joby Wright and NBA Africa director of basketball operations Franck Traore were recognised with the Founders Award. The three spearheaded basketball operations and the launch of the Royal Bafokeng Jr. NBA program in South Africa’s North West Province in 2011.
Its unbelievable being here, coming off of a championship season and being able to share the feeling with all the people; all the kids, coaches and parents, and everyone that has been here from day one helping to build this league,” he said.
Engelbrecht, who was born in South Africa, has also been involved in the Basketball Without Borders (BWB) Africa development camps since their inception in 2003 and has seen the likes of Luc Mbah a Moute, Gorgui Dieng, Joel Embiid and Pascal Siakam attend the camps.
Reflecting on what it takes to be a good talent scout, he says that one has to watch a lot of basketball and once a great player is identified, there has to be a process of researching them in terms of their work ethic and desire to get better, background information on their diet and nutrition, and their injury history.
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“There were a couple of young players at the Bafokeng finals event that was quite impressive, particularly one young boy that really stood out and won the MVP award. I remember him as one of those kids that were always on the court and eager to learn. That passion for the game that goes outside of the Xs and Os coupled with talent usually makes great players,” commented Engelbrecht.
Engelbrecht was at the Raptors by the time reigning NBA Most Improved Player Siakam was drafted and says from the time he saw him at BWB Africa camp in 2012, he noticed that his energy and athleticism was remarkable.
“I always get asked this question about Pascal and the first thing I noticed with him was his ‘motor’. He was one of those guys that seemed as if he was moving faster than everybody else, he was quicker to the ball, he just had a desire and a ‘motor’. Every time there was a rebound, he would sprint ahead of everybody and he was like that all the time,” he explains. “If you see him now, he has slowed down a little bit, but he had applied that ‘motor’ to his work ethic and his appetite to get better and he never stops, he is constantly in the gym trying to refine his game.”
Engelbrecht believes that that Siakam has an “addiction” to the game of basketball that will see him get much better than he already is.
On the championship season, he says that the Raptors have been a good team for a long time, but they kept falling victim to LeBron James led teams in the Eastern Conference.
“LeBron then made a career decision and moved out to LA and we made a couple of moves to strengthen our roster and brought in a special player in Kawhi Leonard. What he brought to the franchise in terms of peoples’ belief, elevated everybody, especially his fellow players. He took a lot of the young players under his wing and they learned from the seriousness with which he approached the game – he prepared like he was preparing for the finals, not just for the playoffs, but he did it like he was preparing for June,” he explained.
Looking at the current season, Engelbrecht says that although the Raptors may be referred to as the defending champions, in their minds, they won last season, but they are once again championship chasers.
“Our mantra and our head coach Nick Nurse’s stance is to attack the title. We are not defending our title, we already won that and it can’t be taken away from us. Its now time to chase the next one,” he notes.
Engelbrecht adds that the Raptors continue to embrace their somewhat underdog status and the culture of “We the North” and Toronto versus everyone.
He states that his team has a heavy focus on Africa, something that its roster clearly show, and says that the league is starting to recognise the fact that if other teams don’t do their due diligence on the African continent, Toronto will have a competitive advantage, which it will fully exploit.
At the recent BWB Africa hosted in Senegal earlier this year, there was representation from 20 NBA teams, which was the highest number of NBA scouts ever present at a camp on the continent.