Sports

Why I’m committed to develop youths, says Masai Ujiri

It is always rare to see sports men and women after making it abroad, return to the country to give back to the society especially in the area of infrastructures. However, this is not the case with former D’Tigers star, Masai Ujiri, who at the moment with his foundation, Giants of Africa, is trying to improve on the lots of the youth in Africa. Giants of Africa, the foundation dedicated to enriching the lives of African youths through sports, Ujiri, Vice-Chairman and President of the Toronto Raptors and Giants of Africa founder, recently revealed his plans to build 100 courts across Africa and at the moment, 10 of those are completed with four already commissioned in Lagos.

He recently returned to Nigeria to unveil the new courts in Lagos which include Ijeshatado Grammar School, Oworonshoki, at a Community Park, and Ilupeju Grammar School. Additionally, the foundation also unveiled a new practice court for the Lagos Warriors professional basketball team.

The next round will see courts built in places like Zaria, Owerri, Maiduguri amongst other places. Historically, one of the most difficult challenges for athletes in Nigeria, and throughout all of Africa, is the lack of quality facilities and equipment to foster their talents.

“The African continent, and Nigeria specifically, is teeming with raw talent,” Ujiri said. “As we see more and more players drafted into the NBA from Nigeria, it’s never been more clear how much the continent needs this investment to find the next generation of stars– both on and off the court.” Under the organisation’s “Built Within” initiative, over 10 new court builds and refurbishments were unveiled across locations in Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso. The remaining will be unveiled in years to come, and will be strategically located in underserved communities. “I dreamt of being an NBA star but I was never good enough for that level of competition. I only managed to play in a few leagues in Europe and few times with D’Tigers but I used the opportunity to target the NBA in a different way. I started as a scout moving around the places but today, I have moved up,” he said. “I keep telling these young ones that not everyone will end up as great basketball players but you can use this game and the exposure as a launch pad for other things. In these young ones I see doctors, engineers, great teachers and nurses. “These public spaces have the power to unite communities, build togetherness and improve quality of life for all people.”

The new courts were built in partnership with Sport Court International, LLC, a pioneer in the concept of backyard modular sports surfaces. MasterCard foundation is supporting this year’s efforts along with I AM GOLD, who will be contributing to this initiative over the coming years. Ujiri also challenged the various levels of government in Nigeria, the corporate world and individuals to help create meaningful opportunities for young Nigerians.

The Toronto Raptors Vice Chairman who has consistently decried the state of the National Stadium in Lagos said he was joyful that he and his team in the Giants of Africa Foundation have been able to demonstrate how grassroots sports could be helped in Nigeria.

He added: “I have always spoken about the very poor condition of the National Stadium and I will continue to speak until something meaningful is done. We have enough space to develop world standard facilities that every Nigerian can be proud of. “People have asked me why have I not brought the Toronto Raptors here to play but the answer is where will they play here? Is it in that sports hall? “But rather than be complaining we have decided to start in our own little way to help young Nigerians develop themselves. Precious Achiuwa and Bassey passed through our Giants of Africa camps just about five, six years ago but today they are in the NBA. Precious shot 17 points for Toronto in a preseason game recently and we are very excited because he is a product of this system.

“Every kid may not play in the NBA eventually; I never played but see where I am today. Look at Godwin Owinje (co-founder Giants of Africa) how basketball has helped his life to the fullest. The life training they get here can prepare them to become sports administrators, medical doctors, lecturers. All they need is encouragement.

“We can give them that encouragement with the facilities we make available to communities. Let’s give kids in the communities and schools the basic facilities to train and grow. “When we come to Nigeria or let me say Africa, we were challenged, why there are no infrastructure, no stadium and I keep saying that we have to look at ourselves in the eye and say we need to end this challenge by fixing things.

“I think African love seeing things done and then they follow, so rather than writing proposals, let’s try and do it and see what happen. “With my foundation, Giants of Africa, we were supposed to have our camp last year but due to the COVID, we couldn’t travel, so I called my contractors to see if we could build, I told them I want to build like 100 courts across the continent, what do we do, and we did during the COVID. “The key thing for me is to see an African child develop in all ramifications and I am happy that with my Foundation, we could contribute a little to the development of the game of basketball on the continent.”

 

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