Basketball is a global game.
As the popularity of the sport continues to grow worldwide, so does the NBA's presence across the globe, evidenced by the six NBA Academies that span across three continents.
In San Luis Potosí, Mexico sits La Loma Centro Deportivo, the home of NBA Academy Latin America, an elite basketball training program that provides top high school-age prospects from Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, South America and Canada with a holistic approach to player development.
NBA.com recently caught up with Hernan Olaya, a player development coach at NBA Academy Latin America and Wilguens Exacte Jr., an elite prospect at the academy that hails from Montreal, Quebec.
From our conversation, it didn't take long to understand exactly how this holistic approach breeds success across the program.
"It starts from the recruiting process," Olaya began."Getting to know these guys, we go and see them in different competitions. We follow them throughout tournaments, like FIBA tournaments when they go to the national teams [or] playing in the local leagues."
As Olaya explained, it's deeper than just being talented, as these players have to have the right personality to fit the culture as well.
"That's very important," Olaya said of being a proper culture fit. "Wilguens is one of the examples that we have. He's a hard worker, I saw him play in Canada for his local team in Montreal. And so from the recruiting process to when they get here to the Academy, we want them to fit right. They have to have a certain personality and work ethic."
Exacte, a 6-foot-5 guard, fits the bill of a player that will benefit from the Academy's approach to developing talent. When asked about his experience and growth so far, it's clear that he's making the most of the opportunity that has been presented to him.
"I've learned a lot," Exacte began. "Just being able to be with an amazing coaching staff - Coach Hernan and Coach Walter [Roese]. They're really doing an amazing job of teaching us the game of basketball.
"And personally, I have things that I have to work on and these coaches are always there for me. Having access to them almost 24/7 It's, it's a unique opportunity. Me and Coach Hernan, we've been working hard, been working on my weaknesses a lot, so I've gotten better really fast."
As part of the focus on players' weaknesses, the staff devises an Individual Development Plan (IDP) for each player at the Academy.
"We sit down with the player, the technical director, player development guys, strength and conditioning coach, and we try to follow that plan," Olaya said of the IDP. "So, just to give you an example, we know that for the next step, which is college for Wilguens, he needs to be a combo guard. So we try to prepare him for that."
With an awareness of the areas in which he needs to improve, Exacte isn't shy about asking for extra work, Olaya explained. On any given day, the focus can be extra shooting drills to film sessions to learn how to read the game better.
If you're unfamiliar with Exacte, allow him to explain his game for you: "As a combo guard, I feel like I can create for others, get to the basket whenever and also make open shots."
His AAU mixtape from the past summer paints that picture perfectly.
Nearly 3,600 kilometres from home, the experience could be a bit of a culture shock for Exacte but fortunately, both Olaya and the Academy itself have a history with Canadian prospects. Montrealers Bennedict Mathurin (University of Arizona) and Olivier Maxence-Prosper (Marquette University) are two notable alumni of the NBA Academy in Latin America that have gone on to play high-major Division I basketball in the NCAA.
"We have so much success with the Canadians that we brought to the program that from there it's just a pipeline that we have here with Canada basketball," Olaya added. Prior to joining NBA Academy Latin America, Olaya was the director of sports performance at Pursuit Athletics Center in Toronto, which he spoke on at length.
"Toronto is home for me, so I know the landscape very well," Olaya shared. "Not only locally in Toronto but all over Canada, I got the opportunity to go to the nationals, get to see different provinces, types of players and see the development of Canadian basketball for all these years. The amount of players that Canada's putting into Division I programs in the States, the NBA, that speaks volumes about everything that has been done there."
While Mathurin and Maxence-Prosper are collegiate examples of the talent that exists outside of Ontario, Khem Birch, Chris Boucher and Luguentz Dort are three Montrealers that have each made their mark in the NBA.
Exacte stands to add his name to the list of basketball successes hailing from Quebec.
"A lot of motivation," Exacte said of those that have come before him. "Seeing Khem Birch, Chris Boucher and Lu Dort in the league today just shows that kids from Quebec have a lot of talent. Like, we've always been recognized as underdogs and hard workers. So, seeing that, I keep having hope and faith that I can make it to the NBA one day."
While the pipeline from Canada to Mexico is strong, Olaya made sure to note that there are a variety of countries represented at the Academy, making way for more pipelines to be developed in due time.
"We've got kids from different backgrounds all over the place like Brazil and Uruguay," Olaya said. "That itself brings a lot of value to the program - it's not only one nationality. There's a lot of kids with different skill sets with different types of understanding of basketball and when you get together with that, not only as a coach but as players, too. I think we grow and that brings a lot of value to the program, you know, like and everything that NBA Academies are doing throughout the world."
"Canada, again, is growing, but also we're working on different countries where I think you know, the basketball has to develop a little bit more. We want to work with those countries and get them better. You know, like, if we bring a kid from one of those countries, that will create a pipeline for the rest of the kids that we can actually bring in the future."
After Oklahoma City Thunder guard Josh Giddey (NBA Global Academy, 2020) became the first NBA Academy alumnus to hear his name in the NBA Draft, the program will look to continue to strengthen its pipeline of sending talent to play professionally at all levels, while maintaining the focus on using basketball as a tool to learn life skills while valuing their standing as student-athletes first.
As for Exacte's future, he's got clear short- and long-term goals for himself.
"This year I'm really trying to be a really consistent shooter and just keep learning as much as I can and keep that same work ethic that I have, keep working hard. And I'm trying to attend a good college for the best situation for me, do my years there and then hopefully go to the NBA one day."
With the system in place, the future is bright for both Exacte and each of the six NBA Academies worldwide.
(Quotes edited for clarity and length.)
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