Enugu State-born U.S.-based basketball star, Ezekiel Tobechukwu Nnaji (also known as Zeke Nnaji) has initiated partnership with National Basketball Association (NBA-Africa) and the Players Association for the construction of basketball facilities in parts of Nigeria.
Nnaji, who plays for Denver Nuggets in the NBA, said arrangements have been concluded to build five basketball facilities in the country.
Speaking at the unveiling of the first of the basketball facilities in Enugu, Nnaji said the idea is to give back to the society, as well as provide opportunities for the development of basketball among young people.
The NBA star said he was moved into doing so after visiting the country for the first time at a young age to discover “the glaring depravity young kids go through each day.”
He said: “We believe that athletic and academic engagement is a powerful tool for molding children into productive members of our society.
“We partnered with NBA Africa and the NBA Players Association to build the basketball facility. This is the first of the five locations. There is a technology lab, which we will start working on next month, where kids will learn how to use equipment like 3D printers, design engineering software, as well as a music studio.
“Organised basketball teaches kids life skills set like determination, perseverance, collaboration and learning how to handle failure. Everything we do and provide for the families and their kids are all free. We hope that if anyone from any of the facilities make it to the U.S. or becomes successful, they can give back to the community that nurtured their talents.”
Communications Director of Nnaji Foundation, Ugochukwu Nnaji, who gave further details on the project, said it was avenue for young people to learn the game of basketball, adding that they will also create a junior sports league, inter secondary school sports league and will give out cash prizes to winning schools.
“We are really going to revamp the game of basketball in Nigeria. Once we are able to set up inter-school competitions and set up prizes running in millions for the winning schools, we now get the best players from those school competitions and see how we are going to get them to play internationally. There are so many international basketball leagues looking for hardworking and talented young Nigerian boys and girls to join their league. So, that is really what the goal is all about. This is the first of many basketball courts in Nigeria. Our plan is to conquer the South East. So, in every South East State in Nigeria, we will erect a basketball court as we have here. From there, we will go to all the states in Nigeria. Then, we also go across Africa to make sure that most African children get access to quality basketball.
“We are partnering with NBA and NBA Africa. So, the NBA will bring invaluable coaches and mentoring, scouts and also mentoring from international players. There is also going to be a world of good done to the children. One thing about all of these is that they are all free. Nobody is paying anybody to be part of this.
“Right now, it is a basketball academy. But it is a small part of a bigger picture. There is going to be a skill acquisition centre; we are going to have a laboratory, we are going to have a place where you can code and do computer programmes, learn about programmes and different things like that,” he added.
Unveiling the facility, the member, representing Nkanu East/West federal constituency, Nnolim Nnaji, extolled the initiative, stressing, “in a few years, this part of the constituency where I represent will have a lot of people who are interested in the game of basketball, which, to me, is also part of empowerment for the people.”
He, however, solicited government support to enable the game of basketball take its proper place in the southeast region.