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Nike Camp Gets International Flavor

July 7, 2003
Copyright © 2003 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Idoagesit Ibok believes African prep basketball players are every bit as good as Americans.

This week he intends to prove it.

Ibok is one of a record five international players at the Nike All-America Camp, and if he and his fellow foreigners are successful, the camp's name may have to become a little more globally inclusive.

``America has to wake up because basketball is getting better all around the world,'' Ibok said Monday. ``It's not just in America anymore.''

If last year's World Championships didn't provide enough evidence of the closing gap between American talent and the rest of the world, last month's NBA draft was Exhibit B.

Of the 58 selections, a record 21 played outside the United States.

The influx of foreign talent has steadily grown at the college level. Now the trend is trickling down to the high schools, although Nike camp director George Raveling said this year's five-player contingent was more an accident than design.

Ibok is a 6-foot-10, 227-pound, agile center from Nigeria. England is represented by center Eric Boateng. Center Magnum Rolle came over from the Bahamas, and Puerto Rico sent guards Josue Soto and David Huertas. The Puerto Ricans may be the most talented foreigners in camp.

Through two days of games, they have been impressive.

Shawne Williams, a highly rated senior from Memphis, Tenn., said the international players go at it just as hard as the Americans.

``They don't really play any different,'' he said. ``They bring the same thing we bring to the table.''

The five international players here, though, believe they are only the most fortunate players from their countries -- not necessarily the best.

Rolle, for instance, has developed his talents quickly after picking up a basketball for the first time three years ago. Now, at 6-9 and a rising senior, Rolle has proven skilled enough to earn an invitation to the 180-player camp.

``A coach saw me walking by one day and threw me a ball,'' Rolle said. ``I'd never played ball in my life, and my first shot was terrible -- I missed the backboard completely.''

The question now is how many more players like Rolle are out there -- and Nike, like NCAA coaches and NBA scouts, wants to find them.

Before last month's draft, Indiana Pacers president Donnie Walsh said he expected Africa to be the place the NBA would look next for talent.

Ibok would seem an ideal model.

Like Boateng, Ibok played his way into the Nike camp with a good performance at the Hoop Jamboree in St. Louis last month. He believes his countrymen are just as capable as him.

``I think 80 percent of the players in Nigeria could compete at the high school or college level over here,'' Ibok said Monday. ``Most African players are very good, but since basketball is not as developed over there, a lot of them go to Europe.''

Should more players start choosing America to develop their skills, the next step in the international trend could be coming soon to a high school near you.

Huertas and Soto already have enrolled at Miami Christian High School in Florida. Another Puerto Rican, Ricky Sanchez, is attending school in Bloomington, Ind.

Ibok also plans to attend school in the United States next year, and Rolle is trying to convince his mother to let him come over, too.

The unspoken message is that the five players want to prove they belong in Indianapolis.

``We might not express it, but is in the back of our minds,'' Ibok said. ``You can tell.''

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