Toronto Raptors rookie Pascal Siakam didn’t want to play basketball when he was a kid. As he puts it, “I wanted to do something different.”
Two days removed from an NBA debut that saw the power forward haul down nine rebounds and shoot 100 percent from the floor against the Detroit Pistons, Sportsnet caught up with the 22-year-old from Douala, Cameroon.
Siakam, who’s six-foot-nine with a seven-foot-three wing span, talked about Friday’s match-up against the defending NBA champions, how he thought he’d be late for his first NBA game, what he’s not looking forward to about living in Toronto, and how he almost (but not really) became a priest.
Sportsnet: Did you expect your first shot ever in an NBA game to go in?
Siakam: No, I didn’t. [Laughs.] Usually people miss the first shot. I was expecting an air ball.
How big is basketball in your hometown of Douala?
Basketball was big, but I wasn’t a basketball player. Soccer was always my first game. I got into basketball really late—15, 16.
What did you want to do instead?
I was definitely going to get into business. Coming to the United States, learning, getting my education and going back home and helping my dad create companies and stuff like that. I didn’t want to play basketball. I wanted to do something different. All my brothers played ball so I was like, “Ah, I’ll do something else.” You know? But some things you can’t explain and they happen because they’re supposed to happen.
It worked out pretty well.
Definitely. It’s unbelievable.
I heard you were going to become a priest.
I mean, I went to a catholic school—they call it seminary. I went there for seven years and then after when you get done you go to the big seminary, that’s where they develop priests. My dad [Tchamo, who was killed in a car accident two years ago], he liked priests, he was a religious guy. For me I never felt like it was something I wanted to do or something that God wanted me to do, so I never did it. My dad didn’t push me to it, but he was a religious guy so he was like, “You’re in that school, you’re around priests, maybe you’ll get interested.” But it was nothing like that.
How are you enjoying Toronto so far?
The summer was great—I loved the summer. It’s starting to get cold, so I don’t know. I’m not used to it. I knew it was going to be cold, so I’ll be ready. I have coats and stuff like that to help me out.
Do you have gloves and a toque?
I’ll look for them—I don’t have them, but I need them.
You do. You lived in Texas and New Mexico and Cameroon—have you seen a lot of snow?
I was in Dallas and it snowed there a couple times. Also in New Mexico it snows like twice a year. It was rare but it snowed sometimes, Christmas or something. Random days you can see a little snow.
You’re going to see lots pretty soon.
I’m not looking forward to it. But I’m here, so we’ll see.
How did you decide on where to live in Toronto?
Before I was thinking downtown, but the practice facility is kinda west and I thought I’m going to the practice facility more, so get closer to the practice facility. My brother’s here and we’ve been driving around and driving here’s not that bad. I was thinking I’d be late for the game. But I come here early—I come here at like three o’clock so I’ll never be late. I beat the traffic, so I’ll be good. [Laughs.]
There are lots of scouting reports on you. How would you describe yourself as a player?
I’m an energy guy, I’m a defence-first guy. I’m able to guard multiple positions, switch and pick and rolls, guard from two to four and be able to help my defence out and rebound the basketball, block shots. And then whenever I get my opportunity on offense, make a play on the post or [hit] open jump shots.
Your seven-foot-three wing span must help.
It helps a lot being able to be in the passing lane, bother guys with my hands. I have quick hands.
Everybody talks about your energy. Is it difficult to harness that sometimes?
It’s sometimes hard to get into the rhythm and get to the point where you have that energy. But once you get to that point, as an energy guy, you don’t set boundaries, you go out and play. I have great teammates, they always just encourage me to go out and play. They don’t put pressure on you. They help me out by letting me know, ‘Hey, just play basketball.’ That helps a lot.
Do you do things outside basketball to use up that energy?
No, I play video games. That’s about it. I don’t do that much. I’m more of a chill guy. Living downtown wasn’t big for me because I feel like it’s too much. I wanted to be a little bit away. Out of basketball I’m relaxing, seeing friends and family, playing video games, watching TV or Netflix, stuff like that.
You’re playing LeBron James and the defending champs tonight in your second game ever. Do you get excited about match-ups like this?
Obviously with LeBron it’s gonna be like, “Oh man!” Yeah. But once the game gets going, it’s basketball. That’s the thing you have to understand—you’re part of this. Don’t feel like you’re a fan. Don’t say to yourself, “Oh, these are the stars.” You’re part of this now. Act like you belong. That’s what my teammates tell me and it really helps.