When Pascal Siakam was attending a minor seminary in Cameroon in his teenage teens — and mostly playing soccer in his free moment — he probably never imagined playing in the NBA Finals.
Studying for the priesthood, it turned out, was more of his father’s concept, and not a private call for the now-25-year-old forward for the Toronto Raptors, who are playing against the Golden State Warriors in their first finals.
The 6-foot-9 player, drafted by the Raptors in 2016, is also a possible candidate for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award. In his first season, he made only one 3-point shot ; he now averages a 3-point shot produced per match.
Siakam entered his friends for two summers during his late teens at a basketball camp run by Cameroon player Luc Mbah a Moute, a NBA player who previously played for the Los Angeles Clippers. Through the school, Siakam was selected to join Basketball Without Borders – a program run by the NBA and FIBA, the International Basketball Federation – in Johannesburg, where he was found.
Siakam followed a personal call after graduating from the minor seminary, attending a Texas prep school for a year, and then New Mexico State University before entering the NBA.
ESPN writer Jackie MacMullan went to Cameroon in 2017 for a feature story to visit Siakam’s home town of Douala and St. Andrews Seminary in Bafia.
She interviewed the director of the seminary, Msgr. Armel Collins Ndjama, who said through an interpreter that he knew early on that Pascal’s father had a vision “and Pascal didn’t share it.”
“I realized we might not be able to train him to be a priest, but I still hoped we could teach him to be a guy,” the priest added.
Siakam likewise agreed that he did not believe he had a vocation to the priesthood, but he also did not want to go against his dad. “There’s no better man I’ve known in my life,” he informed ESPN about his father, who died after complications following a car accident before Siakam’s first college match.
Two months after the interview, the director of the seminary was found dead in his office and then one month later the local bishop, Bishop Jean-Marie Benoit Bala of Bafia, was also found dead, the remains of his body pulled from a river on June 2, 2017.
A Catholic News Service report on the obvious killings said a local priest told Camernews internet agency that a few weeks before his death the bishop appeared “very worried and full of pain” and was “completely devastated” by the seminary director’s unexplained death.
Catholic communities in Cameroon were increasingly being attacked by cross-border insurgents from the Boko Haram militants based in Nigeria, who in March 2015 made alliances with the Islamic State. Hundreds of police, military soldiers and civilians were also murdered by the insurgents in the Extreme North province of Cameroon.
Msgr. at the moment of the interview with ESPN. Ndjama said his former student, who wrapped up his rookie season in the NBA, wasn’t surprised by the achievement.
“He was capable of most things when Pascal placed his mind on it,” he said.