New International Scout Touomou Sees Africa as 'Untapped Continent'

Indianapolis, June 25, 2003 - Joe Touomou gave up on the notion of becoming the first native of Cameroon to play in the NBA a few years ago. Though he was the senior captain at Georgetown, the 6-2 guard’s scoring average of 1.7 points per game didn’t attract much attention from the scouts.

Instead, Touomou’s former Georgetown teammate, Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje, was drafted by Portland with a second round pick in 2001, becoming that country's trail-blazer.

Ultimately, Touomou could have a far greater impact not only in the NBA, but on basketball in his native continent of Africa. Added earlier this month to the Pacers’ international scouting staff, Touomou’s primary territory will be Africa and parts of South America. He also will support lead European scout Misho Ostarcevic.

“Africa is an untapped continent,” said Touomou. “I have traveled all over the continent and understand the cultures. Most of the countries are third-world countries, and basketball is not as developed. In fact, in a lot of countries, athletes are looked at differently – almost as failures. I want to help show that athletics can be an avenue to success.”

The Pacers do not expect the hiring of Touomou to have a dramatic, sudden impact on the franchise’s international draft productivity. Draft experts project up to a dozen international players being drafted in the first round on Thursday night. Only one African player, power forward Malick Badiane (Senegal), is likely to be drafted at all, and he is generally projected as a second-round pick.

The fruits of Touomou’s labor will come from seeds just now being planted.

“I don’t think we’re going to find players in Africa immediately who will come to the Pacers,” said David Morway, the club’s senior vice president for basketball administration. “But we will have started to scout the players at an earlier age and develop a deeper body of information about them so that, as these players move onto the NBA Draft radar screen, we’ll have much more knowledge on which to base our decision.”

At Georgetown, Touomou majored in government studies with an emphasis on international relations. Upon graduation, he weighed offers with the World Bank and World Health Organization, among others. But he was attracted to the idea of using his basketball background and connections for the benefit of the greater good and joined non-profit organizations like ABasketball (Basketball for Africa) and SEED (Sports for Educational and Economic Development).

“I thought about my country being a third-world country and the contributions I could make through sports,” said Touomou. “You don’t always have to be in politics or be part of an international organization to do something for that part of the world. So I got involved.”

Because of Touomou’s high profile in African basketball circles, he was a natural fit for the Pacers, who were looking for someone to expand their international scouting horizons.

“He’s very highly recommended, and we talked to a lot of people about what we’re looking for,” said Morway. “We wanted someone with great contacts, who grew up there and knew their way around. And we wanted somebody young, with a lot of energy. Every time we talked to somebody about this, Joe’s name just kept coming up.”

Touomou sees his role as being larger than that of a talent-finder. He wants to help the sport evolve to a much higher level in Africa, and that must begin on the grass-roots level.

“The kids over there learn to play basketball on their own. They don’t have coaches to teach them how to play the game,” he said. “As a scout, you have an educational role. You have to tell the coaches what the NBA is looking for and how to help the players develop those skills. And you have to teach the people, ‘Hey, leave the kid alone if he wants to practice his jump shot.’”

He isn’t trying to save the world. Not yet, anyway.

“For me,” he said, “it’s just about trying to do my little piece to help the Pacers win a championship.”