NBA to open academy in Africa in 2017

(AP) — The NBA will open an academy in Africa next year, its latest move to unearth talent from outside the United States and extend the league’s reach into new territories.

The African academy will be based in Thies, Senegal, and follows similar NBA projects opened this year in China, which has three academies, and Australia. Another academy in India is set to start operating in April.

The NBA aims to open the Senegal academy, its sixth, in May.

The international academies, elite training centers for boys and girls at under-16 and under-18 level, are “the biggest investment the NBA has ever made in basketball development globally,” said Brooks Meek, NBA vice president of international basketball operations.

“We are moving full force ahead and are really excited by the progress we’ve made,” Meek told The Associated Press.

A record 26 international players were selected in the 2016 NBA draft. Along with the new players, the NBA’s push into Asia and Africa, specifically, provides significant new audiences and marketing opportunities for the league.

The NBA has made two big plays in Africa over the last year-and-a-half, holding an exhibition game in South Africa in August 2015, the first on the continent, and signing a new trans-African broadcast deal in April.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver was in Johannesburg for the exhibition game and said it was part of the league’s plan to have a pre-season and then regular-season game in Africa. At the time, Silver said the NBA was on a “fast track” to build a brand in soccer-crazy Africa.

The new academy in Senegal will focus on elite talent development, said Amadou Gallo Fall, NBA vice president and managing director for Africa. For the last 15 years the NBA has laid the foundation, using its international Basketball without Borders camps to develop the game at a grass-roots level in Africa and elsewhere.

Those Basketball without Borders camps have already provided nine NBA players from Africa, including Luc Mbah a Moute of the Los Angeles Clippers, who is from Cameroon. For its new academy, the NBA will work with and use existing facilities set up by Sports for Education and Economic Development, an international NGO, which has also had success after producing the Minnesota Timberwolves forward Gorgui Dieng. The NBA will provide NBA-trained coaches and other support staff for the academy.

“We’ve had a growing number of players coming from the continent and this is really without a concerted effort or focus on elite talent development,” Fall said. “Now we’re deciding to focus on that. Not only is the number of players coming into the league from Africa going to increase, but they’re going to come better prepared.”

The NBA will begin scouting for the African academy’s first class of 12 young players this week, Fall said.