Wani Swaka Lo Buluk and Anyang Garang are two promising Australian prospects of African heritage. Like Thon Maker before them, both of these two young men are working hard to pursue their NBA dream, and have been direct beneficiaries of the NBA Global Academy.
Originally from Uganda, Garang has starred for South Australia in the Australian Junior Championships. Lo Buluk was born in Sudan before arriving in Australia when he was 4, and played a pivotal role in helping Western Australia to a historic national Under-18 championship. He would go on to represent Australia at the 2018 FIBA Under-18 World Cup, a tournament in which his country finished 6th.
Both Garang and Lo Buluk's talent and potential enabled them to receive an invitation to the NBA Global Academy in Canberra, a collaboration between the NBA and Basketball Australia, and it is an environment in which they are now thriving. The past week has seen the second annual NBA Academy Games take part in Canberra, allowing a host of global athletes, including those from Australia, to prove their talent against the best.
Garang was quick to sing the praises of his time at the NBA Global Academy, with its world-class facilities and coaching tuition.
"When I first came in, I was raw. I didn't have a great shooting form, and the Academy definitely helped me change my shooting form to become a better shooter, and to continue to develop as a great shooter," said Garang in an exclusive interview for The Pick and Roll. "The training environment is great. Just to [be able] to train six days a week on a daily basis has really helped my game a lot."
It was a sentiment shared by Lo Buluk.
"So far, [the NBA Global Academy] come a long way since the start, since it first opened in Australia," Lo Buluk shared with The Pick and Roll. "It's really helped me a lot. Just playing with the best athletes in the country, and also probably from around the world."
Lo Buluk has enjoyed a meteoric rise. He has played in two major events on the international stage already, averaging 14.9 points for the Australian Crocs in winning gold at the 2018 FIBA Under-16 Asian Championship before posting 9 points per game for the Crocs in finishing 6th at the 2017 FIBA Under-17 World Cup. His World Cup experience was one he would never forget, despite his team not being able to achieve its medal aspirations.
"Yeah, it was very heartbreaking [to finish 6th]," Lo Buluk explained. "We obviously wanted to go for the gold medal, but unfortunately it was not the outcome that we wanted."
In returning to the NBA Global Academy in Canberra, Lo Buluk is now focused on refining his skills, as he works on becoming a complete player.
"I feel like there are a lot of things I need to improve on," added Lo Buluk. "I think I did a lot of things well, but I think there are some areas of improvement, like handling the ball under pressure, being tough, and just being aggressive."
Both players share the dream of one day playing in the NBA, recognising that hard work and sacrifices will be required to get there. It also helps that Australian players like Thon Maker (Milwaukee) and Mangok Mathiang (Charlotte) have already shown what is possible, with Grarang admitting he looked up to the Aussies excelling in US college and in the NBA, especially those with an African heritage like his own.
"They are definitely role models for me, because they are like the first generation of Sudanese players that have played at a really high level and playing in the NBA," shared Garang. "That's definitely one thing that I will like to get to one day, to play in the NBA.
"My end goal is to play in the NBA - the best possible league in the world. It would be a great opportunity to play the game that I love at a really high level, and follow players such as Thon Maker, and follow in their footsteps."
While recognising the Australians, Garang also looked to try and model his game on the best player in the world - LeBron James.
"LeBron James is the perfect type of player of his generation. He brings a lot to the team, contributes a lot to the team, and cares for the team - I want to be a player like that."
With talent and ambition, Lo Buluk and Garang and many others just like them, are reaping the benefits of the NBA Global Academy. It is only a matter of time before we see the first one break through to NBA ranks.