First of all, let me plug the song I wrote in honour of Pascal Siakam. (More on him afterwards, I promise.) Believe me, it’s worth every dime of your time. Enjoy!
After being routinely humiliated by LeBron James in recent NBA playoff exits, the Toronto Raptors clinched the NBA championship over a couple of weeks ago and it felt like vindication. Today, when Raptors fans celebrate the triumph with so much exuberance, it is mainly because the journey to the Larry O’Brien Trophy has been far from easy.
The months leading up to the start of the 2018-2019 season were chaotic, to say the least. In fact, the Raptors dented their model organization image in the summer of 2018 when they decided to fire Dwane Casey (just before he was crowned Coach of the Year) and trade away Demar DeRozan (the Raptors’ all-time leading scorer).
Raptors team president, Masai Ujiri took difficult decisions and drew stinging of criticism. After going though the ringer for months on end, he can finally savour his savvy. I am very happy for him; I am also very proud of all that my compatriot Pascal Siakam has accomplished.
As early as last October, I knew he was going to have a great season. I had seen the videos of his workouts with Rico Hines on Instagram, and it was obvious that Pascal had taken a step forward during the summer break. As much as I anticipated a breakout year, the exploits of Number 43 have exceeded my expectations by far. Now I can confidently say that Pascal Siakam is the second best player on the Raptors, and few people will disagree with me. I have seen him grow up as a basketball player over the past three years, and he is living proof that work pays.
June 24th, a very important date
On June 24, 2016, I received a text message from my cousin Franck who lives in Germany. Without wasting time, he got to the heart of the matter.
– Do you live in Toronto?
– No, I live in Ottawa
– I’ll come visit you in the next few months.
– This is the first time you’ve been so eager to visit me. What’s going on? You got a woman here?
– No, but a former teammate of mine was drafted by the Toronto Raptors.
That day was the first time I had heard about Pascal Siakam. I immediately went to Google to learn more about this young Cameroonian. I remember that the comments from Raptors fans were not very complimentary. Many people did not understand why Masai Ujiri had set his sights on this Cameroonian player. Was it because they shared African origins?
I must admit that the Raptors fans’ concerns were legitimate. Indeed, Pascal Siakam’s collegiate time was solid if not pedestrian.
NBA chroniclers will remember the summer of 2016 for the emergence of The Hamptons Five when Kevin Durant agreed to sign with and join the Golden State Warriors. Everyone was looking forward to seeing KD play with his new teammates. The first game of the 2016-2017 preseason was between the Golden State Warriors and the Toronto Raptors in Vancouver. The game was a wonderful experience for me, because it not only allowed me to see Kevin Durant in his new colors, but I also got to discover Pascal Siakam.
For his first game in the NBA, the Cameroonian was tasked with defending Durant and I thought he had acquitted himself well. When the season started, due to (then Raptors starting forward) Jared Sullinger’s injury problems, Pascal stepped up and into the starting lineup. I watched all his matches religiously. I thought he was carrying out his defensive assignments pretty well. But he was given very little to do on the offensive end. He rarely touched the ball and most of his points came in fast break situations.
This first season took a turn for the worse when Terrence Ross was sent to the Orlando Magic in exchange for Serge Ibaka. Pascal fell out of the rotation and was sent to play with the Raptors 905, the Toronto Raptors’ minor league affiliate team. He distinguished himself by winning the D-League with the 905 and being named MVP of the Finals.
The following year back with the Toronto Raptors, Pascal didn’t seem to be in the head coach’s plans. But after a stretch of convincing performances, he managed to get into Dwane Casey’s rotation and became an essential member of the Bench Mob.
This season, new coach Nick Nurse did not hesitate to give him more responsibilities and Pascal did not disappoint. With averages of 17 points and 7 rebounds per game in the regular season, he has proven to us that he is now a star. In my opinion, he should have been at this year’s All-Star Game, but it’s only a matter of time. I am sure that he will get such accolades this coming season, deservedly so.
On June 24, it wasn’t a surprise when Pascal Siakam took home the Most Improved Player trophy. We may not have thought much of his potential at first, but Pascal Siakam has managed to convince everyone of his star bona fides.
Three years have passed and my cousin Franck still hasn’t come visit me, but that’s another story. Life is great over here. Let’s just enjoy the ride!
The original opinion piece can be found on ‘Un lion parmi les hommes