Growing up in Cameroon, Pascal Siakam was never interested in basketball. Instead, he was the most academically gifted in a very athletic family, and his goal was to become a catholic priest.
He was not too invested into sports at a young age, until he was discovered at a basketball camp in 2011, and promptly invited to the Basketball without Borders camp. From there, he became a good enough player to warrant moving to the US at the age of 16, and attended God’s Academy in Texas. He still seemed like an unpolished prospect, without exceptional skill, but the coach of the New Mexico State Aggies took a chance on him and offered him a scholarship.
At New Mexico State, Siakam was still a very raw prospect, but showed some flashes. He was voted WAC (Western Athletic Conference) Freshman of the Year his first season, and player of the year in his second. He led the Aggies to the NCAA Tournament both years with the team, and averaged 20 points and almost 12 rebounds in his second and final college season.
In the 2016 NBA draft, the Toronto Raptors had 2 first round picks, and used the 27th overall selection to take Siakam. Masai Ujiri, the team’s GM, had ties to the African basketball camps Siakam had attended. He seemed like a project, a player that may develop into a solid role player, and a high energy guy for the Raptors.
In his first two years, Siakam struggled to find consistent minutes in a crowded front-court, and on a team with a loaded bench. He did however help the Raptors G-League affiliate, Raptors 905, to a championship as a rookie, and won the G-League Finals MVP. However, through two seasons, Siakam still rarely started for Toronto and did not play more than 20 minutes a game.
Under new coach Nick Nurse, in 2018, Pascal was unleashed. He became a regular starter, and won the NBA Most Improved Player Award for the new look Raptors. He averaged almost 17 points, 7 rebounds and 3 assists a game, all career highs. He shot a career best 37% from 3-point range, despite being an ineffective shooter the previous two years. As well, along with Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard, Siakam helped lead the Raptors to their first ever championship, averaging 19 points and 7 rebounds during the playoffs.
As you can tell, Siakam has been exceeding expectations everywhere he has played, and has been improving mightily every season. This past year, he was selected as an All-Star Starter, his first career All-Star appearance. He was averaging career highs of 23.5 ppg and 7.5 rpg, and was widely considered the best player on the contending Raptors. In just over 5 years, Pascal has gone from a complete unknown, and a raw college prospect to one of the NBA’s premier front-court players. Should Siakam stay healthy, and continue to improve his shooting and defensive play, the sky is the limit for him in Toronto.