Following the Siakam path, Koloko is thrilled to join the Raptors: “It’s just surreal’

Christian Koloko has big dreams, but he also has plans. He couldn’t be more excited about their backs while wearing his Toronto Raptors costume.

The second-round pick by the Raptors believes in himself and is confident he can outpace the draft position as the 33rdresearch and development Player taken Thursday evening.

“My goal is to be an NBA player for the long haul, and to be a really good player in the NBA,” he said Friday in a conference call. “Being a star multiple times and having the best career possible, because you know I kind of started playing basketball late, so I think the sky’s the limit for me and I’m going to keep getting better.”

But first, small steps. Having grown up in Cameroon and finished high school in Southern California, then spent three years at the University of Arizona, he’s ticked off a portion of his first NBA salary for a big winter jacket, his first.

He’s seen snow once but living in a northern climate would be something new for the 22-year-old who is 7ft 1cm tall.

Fortunately, Koloko has proven to be remarkably adaptable throughout his athletic career. Like most kids in Cameroon, Koloko grew up playing football – switching between striker and goalkeeper. He played basketball just for fun and like Raptors star Pascal Siakam, who – like Koloko – also comes from Douala, started playing seriously only in his late teens, arriving in California in his last two years of high school.

His first language was French, but he pushed himself to quickly become fluent in English, and during his career in Arizona he pushed himself to grow as a player too. Barely seeing time on the floor as a freshman, he came off the bench in his sophomore year but in his freshman year he was a rookie, a superstar and won several conference awards in the Pac-12.

“I think what happened was just my confidence, I believe in myself,” he said. “My early years in Arizona were really tough with COVID and everything.” I didn’t really get the chance to work on my game over the summer. My first year in Arizona during the summer, I was at home and couldn’t do anything according to California rules, so I guess I really missed that amount of time.

“This year we had a new coaching staff. I came and spoke with the coaches and he told me how he wanted to use me and how he would help me improve. I just needed to commit to working hard and that’s what I did, and I think I was more confident this year.”

Koloko is confident he’ll be able to contribute to the NBA sooner rather than later, with his ability to defend at the edge and – hopefully – hold his own on the perimeter as his calling card. He’ll get his first chance when he joins the Raptors Summer League team next month.

“I think I’m a really good defender,” he said. “During the match I can switch from one to five and contain the man in front of me. Maybe I can’t protect the base for the whole match, but I feel comfortable during the match when I run a goalkeeper and make it difficult for him to score with me. I feel I still have room to improve, and I will continue to improve with that, surely “.

He will have a ready-made form and potential mentor on hand in the form of Siakam, who was an undisclosed pick at No. 27 in 2016, and has since transformed himself from an active defender and messy agent into one of the best players ever. – Strikers in the game, twice NBA recognition.

The two met previously, albeit only in passing, but Siakam made sure to call his new colleague on Thursday evening, and exchanged some words of congratulations and encouragement in French.

Koloko considers Siakam’s road to the NBA from Cameroon a role model that he and others back home want to emulate.

“he is [Siakam] Koloko said. “He’s the first person from Douala to go to the NBA, to get to that level. He’s the NBA champion. He’s the NBA star. This year he’s been on one of the NBA teams. He just means so much, and shows people like me that everything Possible. I think he said when he won the MIP, “Everything seems impossible until it’s done. That’s what he just showed people… Until this year, he got injured and came back.” [He had a] Very slow start and he kept working on his game, showing people who he is. Just that perseverance he showed, he means everything to the city of Douala, for sure.”

It’s clear that the Raptors are investing heavily in Koloko to reach the limits of his potential. They’ve been tracking him since he was 17 at a Basketball Without Borders camp in South Africa in 2017 and told him he was available with 33 people.research and development The choice they will take.

For Toronto, Koloko represents something different in that they didn’t have: a prototype of the modern big man – someone who could challenge shots over the edge defensively and be an offensive threat, while having the speed to contain the ball in the periphery.

“I mean, it’s seven feet tall, I’m not sure how wide its wings are or how well it stands, but it’s definitely something we don’t have,” said Bobby Webster, general manager of Raptors. “Maybe we won’t know [when he can contribute] So let’s get over that a little bit more. But yeah, I guess as far as a seven-foot rim protector is? We don’t have that. “

Koloko wants it to be more than that – he wears the number 35 in honor of his favorite player, Kevin Durant – but knows he must prove his ability as a defender before his offensive responsibilities can be fully explored. That he has improved dramatically as a free-throw shooter — from 35 percent as a rookie to 73.5 percent as a rookie — and that he showed some play-making dashes as he scored six passes in one game and four more passes in one game there is room for optimism.

Watch recruiting in Los Angeles with his family, a night he won’t soon forget. Getting into the NBA is one thing, but doing so while playing with Raptors Vice President Masai Ujiri, the African basketball legend and along with Siakam, a giant figure in their hometown makes it all the more special.

“It was awesome. It was crazy. My family was really happy. I was happy with myself,” he says of his recruiting experience. “Where do I come from, Pascal and I are only from that city to get this far. Even when I went to college, getting to that level was a huge thing for me. To get into the NBA, it’s just surreal. I’m going to embrace it and keep improving and show people that you can Achieve anything if you put work into it for sure.

“…I built a really good relationship with the Maasai and every time I saw [people from the Raptors] They’ve always shown me love and made them pick me up in this draft that means everything, man. I will be forever grateful to them and will go there and give everything I have for them.”

Leave a Comment