For the second time in recent years, New Mexico owes a bit of thanks to the National Basketball Association and the International Basketball Federation (FIBA).
Here’s why: According to a Journal article published Thursday about UNM’s signing of 18-year-old Kurt-Curry Wegscheider, Basketball Without Borders – a joint NBA-FIBA outreach program – has now played an important part in setting not one but two talented young hoopsters on the paths that ultimately led them to the Land of Enchantment.
Basketball Without Borders has been putting on intensive clinics for youth around the world since 2001, driven by a desire to make basketball a global sport.
Pascal Siakam, a former New Mexico State Aggie, has spoken to the media in the past about how instrumental Basketball Without Borders was in his journey. Now he’s playing a starring role for the talent-laden Toronto Raptors, which were up three games to one Monday heading into Game 5 of the NBA championship finals against the Golden State Warriors.
As a teen, the Cameroon native was in Catholic seminary when he attended the NBA camp in South Africa – not for any love of basketball, which didn’t interest him, but because his sister was going and he hadn’t seen her in years. His talent was immediately apparent enough for U.S. coaches to take notice; first it was prep school in Texas, then recruitment and two seasons playing for New Mexico State University – where Lobos head coach Paul Weir was an assistant coach at the time – and a pro career after being snagged by Toronto in 2016.
When Wegscheider attended the camp last year, he wasn’t quite as new to the game as Siakam had been; the Central African Republic-born phenom was from a basketball-playing family and had already been at NBA Academy Africa in Senegal for two years. But Basketball Without Borders gave him the opportunity to impress Siakam, who returned as a coach with fellow NBA players off-season, and who later “raved” about the teen to his old assistant coach Weir, according to Journal reporter Geoff Grammer. To make a long, transcontinental story short, UNM recruited Wegscheider from NBA Academy Africa, and Weir was able to soften the blow of senior guard Anthony Mathis’ departure with the news Wegscheider has signed on with the Lobos for the 2019-20 season.
Would Wegscheider have caught UNM’s eye without Basketball Without Borders? It’s possible; he was already playing for a prestigious program with strong U.S. ties. Would Siakam have eventually discovered his own hoops talent without the clinic? Maybe, although it’s possible he could have stayed on his earlier path and become a priest instead. It’s clear that the program helped both men forge important connections that helped shape their paths – and New Mexico gets the benefit.