The number of young players with BAL experience joining US Colleges continues to grow annually, and this summer won’t be any different.
The BAL Elevate Program – an initiative in its second year gives the top 12 NBA Academy Africa prospects an opportunity of playing professionally in the BAL – has played a part in the new wave of young players heading stateside.
In addition to their BAL experience, most of them have – at some point in their careers – been part of the NBA Academy Africa.
So, who are the BAL top prospects joining US Colleges this year?
Rueben Chinyelu, Joy Ighovodja, Churchill Abass and Dramane Camara, who featured in the BAL Season 3 are the latest individuals to embark on a US collegiate career.
DOB: August 21, 2004
School: DePaul University
BAL Team(s): US Monastir (2023)
Abbas had limited playing time for then BAL defending champions US Monastir, but DePaul University head coach Tony Stubblefield spotted a lot of potential in the young Nigerian.
“From the moment we first saw Churchill play we knew he was a special talent. He possesses everything we look for in players from athleticism to a relentless effort on the defensive end. We're excited to get him here to Chicago and see his continued development over the next several years," coach Stubblefield said.
DRAMANE ‘Ladji’ CAMARA
DOB: January 24, 2004
School: DePaul University
BAL Team(s): Al Ahly (2023)
Ladji appeared in four of Al Ahly’s eight games in this BAL season, and each time coach Agustin Bosch called him off the bench, he displayed impressive discipline and confidence playing alongside a group of players who played together for long periods of time.
The young Ladji heads to the DePaul University as a BAL champion after helping Al Ahly to the 2023 title last month in Kigali, Rwanda.
None better than DePaul University coach Tony Stubblefield to explain what makes Ladji special.
“He has a great combination of length, speed and athleticism. He's an extremely versatile player who can do it all on the court and is going to just continue improving," Stubbledield said.
DOB: October 12, 2004
School: Wichita State University
BAL Team(s): Rwanda Engergy Group (2022) and ABC Fighters (2023)
Ighovodja made his BAL debut in 2022 with Rwanda Energy Group (REG). A year later, he was drafted by the Abidjan Basket Club (ABC) Fighters from Ivory Coast.
A talented guard, the young Nigerian is headed to Wichita State University, where head coach Paul Mills described the type of player he is.
Paul Mills said: “Joy has a terrific skillset combined with great length for a guard his size and will be a force for many years to come. More importantly, Joy is a young man of high character who will represent Shocker basketball well, on and off the court.”
DOB: September 30, 2003
School: Washington State University
BAL Team(s): Ferroviário da Beira (2022) and Stade Malien (2023)
Before joining the NBA Academy Africa, Chinyelu grabbed the headlines after leading the 2019 FIBA U16 African Championship in Cape Verde in rebounds with 17.6 rebounds per game, where Nigeria finished third.
In 2021, Chinyelu made his BAL debut during the Sahara Conference in Senegal while playing for Mozambican side Ferroviário da Beira. He averaged 2.5 points and 2 rebounds in four games.
His stellar BAL performance happened in BAL Season 3, where Chinyelu displayed his enormous potential.
Chinyelu averaged 5.3 points and 8.5 rebounds in eight games to help Stade Malien finish third.
In chat with the bal.nba.com, Chinyelu shared his thoughts on the BAL experience and shed light on his future with Washington Stade.
Chinyelu said: “The Elevate Program has benefited me by giving me the opportunity to be part of a professional team, compete at a high level (against professional teams) and also being able to adopt to a new coaching system.
“My Experience at the BAL Season 3 was beautiful. I learnt that you should know why a coach needs you in his team and what he expects from you. It helps you get ready for that while still focusing on getting better each day because everyone is unique in their own way.
“My aspirations at Washington State are to make it to the NBA, develop my craft, work on getting my perimeter/post and my defensive game to a greater height.”
Other players with a BAL past include Mohamed Keita who featured for SLAC from his native Guinea in BAL Season 2.
Keita last played St. John’s University but has entered his name to the transfer portal, where a number of schools have shown interest in signing the seven-foot center.
Matar Diop – who featured for Cape Town Tigers in 2022 has reportedly received offers from Seton Hall, St. Joseph’s University, and Bryant University.
BAL Elevate alumni Emmanuel Okorafor - who played for Espoir Fukash in 2022 is now part of Louisville Cardinals program.
The Nigerian was one of the revelations of the BAL Season 2 as he became the first player from the BAL Elevate program to average in double-double figures.
Mohab Yasser Abdallatif – 2021 BAL champion with Zamalek, Abdallatif, who joined the NBA Academy Africa in 2019, returned to the Cairo-based club for the playoffs campaign, finishing third.
The Egyptian currently plays for East Tennessee State University.