Nineteen-year-old Cameroonian Ulrich Chomche has been drafted by the Memphis Grizzlies, making him the first player from any of the NBA’s academies to be drafted directly into the elite NBA league. Experts say this milestone highlights significant progress in Africa’s basketball development.

Oliver Ochieng

Cameroon’s Ulrich Chomche from NBA Academy Africa has become the first prospect across all three of the league’s NBA Academies to be drafted directly out of an NBA Academy after he was selected 57th overall by the Memphis Grizzlies in the 2024 NBA draft.

He also becomes the first player to be drafted after participating in the Basketball Africa League (BAL).

According to Silalei Shani, former captain of Kenya’s women’s national basketball team and sports director at IMG Kenya, enlisting Ulrich Chomche means something positive is happening in basketball courts in Cameroon, which other African countries must take notice of and emulate.

“It is not just something big for African basketball but particularly for Cameroon. It is clear that Cameroon produces top-level talent,” said Shani.   

“Even bigger accomplishment is for the NBA Academy Africa because he is the first prospect drafted directly from the Academy into the NBA. Usually, a lot of prospects go to division one school and then are drafted from there,” she added.

Chomche becomes the seventh player from Cameroon to be drafted by NBA, following former NBA player and BAL Head of League Operations Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje (50th overall in 2001 NBA draft), former NBA player Luc Mbah a Moute (37th overall in 2008 NBA draft), Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid (third overall in 2014 NBA Draft), Indiana Pacers’ Pascal Siakam (27th overall in 2016 NBA Draft), Christian Koloko (last played for the Toronto Raptors; 33rd overall in 2022 NBA draft) and Yves Missi selected 21st overall by the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday night.

This also marks the first time that two players from Cameroon were selected in the same NBA draft.

The 19-year-old Cameroonian joined NBA Academy Africa, an elite basketball training centre in Saly, Senegal for top prospects from across the continent in 2019 as a 14-year-old. 

During his time at the academy, Chomche participated in several high-profile international competitions and showcases including the NBA Academy exhibition games at the NBA G League Showcase (2021-23), the Tarkanian Classic (2021-23), NBA Academy Games (2022-23), Basketball Without Borders (BWB), Global Camp (2023) and BWB Africa (2022). 

While enrolled at NBA Academy Africa, Chomche competed in the BAL as part of the BAL Elevate program, representing Rwanda Energy Group (REG) in 2023 and Cameroon’s Forces Armées et Police (FAP) in 2022. 

He played for Cameroon’s national team in the 2023 FIBA Olympic Pre-Qualifying Tournament and represented the World Team at the 2024 Nike Hoop Summit in Portland, Oregon last April.

For a country like Kenya, which is still in the early stages of basketball development, Shani said Chomche’s success is an inspiring sign that the future looks bright.

“What is positive is that the NBA has opened an office in Kenya and they are going to have elite development camps, and the top selections from the camps are going to have other elite development opportunities under the NBA. I think that is the first step because that is where you identify top talent to go into the NBA Academy. For Kenya, we have to take one step at a time.”  

In May, NBA Africa and Safaricom, one of the largest telco companies in Africa, unveiled a program penciled on developing budding basketball talent in Kenya through a multi-year initiative.

The expansive youth development agenda in the program is expected to reach more than 10,000 youth this year, through regional and national junior NBA tournaments, coaching clinics, and an elite camp for top Kenyan prospects. 

Adam Silver, NBA Africa commissioner, said partnering with Safaricom is part of their mission to grow the game not only in Kenya but across Africa.

“We look forward to creating more opportunities for young people to engage in physical activity and learn the values inherent in sport,” he stated.



Comments are closed.