What do the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat have in common? They are both in the NBA Finals. Beyond that, not much is comparable between the two teams.
On one side you have the Heat, an assortment of American talent attacking the league with sheer force and ability. Of the 15-man roster, all but one player was born and raised in the United States. The only player not American born is Canadian Joel Anthony.
On the other side you have the Spurs. With more than half of its players born outside the United States' borders, the San Antonio squad is the epitome of international and team play. Of the 15-man roster, eight of the players are international. One from Brazil (Tiago Splitter), two from Australia (Aaron Baynes and Patty Mills), one from Argentina (Manu Ginobili), one from Canada (Cory Joseph), and three from France (Nando De Colo, Tony Parker and Boris Diaw).
Even without the top talent, the San Antonio Spurs have certainly made a competitive series against the heavily favored Heat heading into a deciding game seven on Thursday night. Anchored by the brilliant play of Frenchman Tony Parker, the international presence of the NBA is certainly a growing one. With teams searching deeper and deeper in the overseas market for different types of players and skill sets, the NBA is constantly searching for the next international talent.
Just recently, four of France’s top players began training with the IMG Academy basketball program. With the NBA draft just around the corner, these promising talents are looking to get the most out of their abilities.
Mouhammadou Jaiteh, a 6’11” center from Patin, France, began training at IMG Academy two weeks ago. When asked what the biggest difference between training at IMG Academy and training in France, Jaiteh said, “Almost everything. We really have to adapt between practices in France and here. The coaches push us here and focus on the individual player. We get Gatorade and get to watch film. It’s the first time we have something like that." With many of the NBA hopefuls training in one spot, IMG Academy is certainly a place to find competition. “What I like the most about the competition is the practice between the players. For example, when one person dunks, the other person will try to dunk harder. So everybody will reach up their level and the whole practice level will move up.”
When asked what his dreams were, Jaiteh responded, “My dream is my goal. My goal is have a long career in the NBA.” At only 18-years of age, Mouhammadou is projected to go in the first round of the 2014 NBA draft.
Jaiteh is joined at IMG Academy by Abdoulaye Loum, Moustapha Fall and Souleyman Diabate, who are also looking to make a name for themselves. Loum is a 22-year-old, 6'10" center. Fellow center Fall is really looking to improve his muscle strength, footwork, technique and quickness. Diabate, a guard, would really like to work on his outside shooting. “I am fast, I can play defense, so everything we do will help me get better. But the first thing for me, is outside shooting. I can make some shots but I have to make people afraid of my outside shot.”
This French quartet is a testimony to the ever-evolving state of the NBA. Players in this era, no matter their origin, want to get the best out of their opportunities. Apart from preparing athletes for the professional ranks, IMG Academy also has a successful track record of readying French players for high-level collegiate play in the U.S. Recently, IMG Academy helped 6'9" C/F Alex Gavrilovic prepare for collegiate play at Dayton where he has been a solid contributor in his first two seasons.