Soumaila Samake (215-C-78) is a center from Mali, Africa, who started his professional career in Slovenia and reached the heights of NBA stardom, playing alongside Kobe Bryant (198-SG-78) in the Lakers. His career is also linked to Montenegro so take a look at this motivational story that proves once again how nothing is impossible,
Hello Soumaila, you took a very interesting basketball road. Born in Mali you were the first player from your country to get international recognition. Now players like Cheick Diallo (206-C/F-96) are following your footsteps. Could you tell us more about your childhood in Mali and how did you fall in love with basketball?
I Indeed I took a very interesting basketball road; especially if you look as far back as my childhood in Mali, which has absolutely no predictor that I will be a basketball player despite my God given gift of height.
As you know, Mali is a third world country in west Africa where soccer is the dominant sport perhaps because it requires minimum resources to be played; all you need is something round shaped like a ball. Basketball on the other hand, requires a lot more in term of resources and is a far less popular sport, which is mostly played in the capital, Bamako, and a little bit in few other regions of the country. I was born and raised in Bougouni, a rural locality of Mali located a little less than 200 Km from Bamako. Most of childhood was spent going to school, farming a lot, and playing soccer or other games with friends. Basketball was no part at all of my life or the life of other kids from Bougouni and I had never seen basketball being played until my teenager years when I finished secondary school and was sent to Bamako to continue studying.
My family did not have much financial means and in Bamako I was hosted by my sister (cousin) and was attending school and also working at the local market as a helper pushing shopping carts for some modest change. The market was located near the main athletic complex of the country where were located the only indoor basketball stadium of the country at the time, and outdoor practice courts for the top teams in the country. Working at this market was the turning point of my life as many people appeared impressed or amazed with my height and asked why I was not playing basketball. It is also that time that I met some very good friends who were very into basketball and wanted to try to teach me some basic skills. I then started venturing more often into the sport complex after a long day of school and work at the market to learn to play basketball. Of course, I quickly realized that my height could be a blessing in this sport when a local coach and very good friend named Serime dedicated his time in trying to develop my skills. He had very limited resources himself, but he was committed to helping me learn this game that I was starting almost too late; like many, he thought with hard work I could change my life playing basketball.
Well, it did not take too long for the first signs of a life changing opportunity to show. Only a year after I was first introduced to basketball, I drew the attention of one of the elite team, Stade Malien, which practiced in the sport complex. They asked me to join their junior team and started working more aggressively to develop my skills. This was the real beginning of my life as a basketball player, and from that point it was more better and better opportunities... with first international exposure coming through the junior national team of Mali the same year that I joined State Malien.
So yes, I took a very interesting basketball road, and as you can see from the little snapshot of my childhood, I could not have dreamed to be the first player from Mali to get international recognition. I am very blessed to have had the opportunities and I believe by being the first to achieve a certain level, my experience has directly or indirectly impacted many young athletes from Mali. It drew the attention of international basketball scout toward Mali and also inspired I hope many young kids to want to do as well or better than me. As I look back, Mali have had many outstanding international basketball players, both males and females, since my journey began and I hope that trend continues.
Today, when you look at guys like Cheick Diallo and others upcoming athletes that I believe would accomplish far more than I did, it shows you how far along Mali has come on the international scene and makes younger guys understand that everything is possible when you make the most of your opportunities. It is great for Basketball but it is even greater for MALI !!!!
The first stop on you basketball journey was a small basketball club Idrija from Slovenia. You joined them in 1996. How did you get a chance to play in Slovenia and was it a cultural shock at that time?
As I mentioned earlier, it did not take too long in my early days of playing basketball to join the junior national team of Mali; this was really my ticket to Slovenia. During the early 1990s, Mali was not very well known by international recruiters in basketball. Travels by teams, including junior and senior national teams, were for the most part limited to regional tournaments and, if qualified, to the African Championship that takes place every two years. However, this began to change in the mid 1990s when the junior national team started getting invitation to participate in tournament in France. It is during my first travel with the junior travel to France that I was approached by recruiters from Olimpija Ljubljana who asked me if I would be interested in playing in Slovenia. Shortly after the tournament and the return of the junior national team to Mali, I was on my way to Slovenia through Olimpija Ljubljana; to make a long story short, It is Olimpija that 'loaned' me to Idrija.
Slovenia was a real cultural shock at that time for many reasons. As you know, before going to Slovenia I had not really travelled much outside Africa, which is mostly not a cultural or racial difference from Mali; only that one short trip to France, but french is our official language in Mali. In Slovenia, however, everything was just different and I mean very very different from Mali in all aspects. One of the most difficult thing was making the language and diet adjustment, but I had to adjust very quickly to be able to achieve my goals and make the most of the opportunity. At the end I was able to quickly learn the language by taking private courses and I truly believe that this first step in my career was the most challenging one. However, I also believe that it prepared me psychologically for the remaining of my international career and my ability to adapt culturally to the many places I visited during my journey.
After a season with Idrija you joined a bigger club, Slovan Ljubljana and stayed there for two seasons and there you got noticed by NBA scouts and moved to United States to prepare for the 2000 NBA draft. How did playing few seasons of professional basketball in Slovenia affect you as a player? Did you consider yourself ready for NBA draft?
Playing few seasons in Slovenia was very instrumental in my basketball career. When I arrived in Slovenia, I had only played basketball for a few years and did not really have much skills. In retrospect, that was perhaps a good thing, because I did not have much of a bad habit and was able to learn the game the right way. Obviously being very tall and athletic, I was a great potential at the center position and there were no better place than Slovenia to develop the skills I needed. I spend tremendous amount of time working on all aspect of the game, from shooting, to moving without the ball, to using both left and right hands jump hook . even ball handling. So yes, I did consider myself ready for the NBA when it comes to my skill sets. But I was also aware of the fact that the NBA was another level and different than the style of basketball in Slovenia; given that I had only played basketball for a few year, I knew that I would need to continue developing both my skills and physically if drafted in the NBA.
At the draft night former New Jersey Nets selected you at draft pick number 36. You were better placed than some well known names in European basketball in later years: Igor Rakocevic (191-G-78), James Penn (178-PG-77, college: Ohio St.) or Pete Mickeal (199-F-78, college: Cincinnati, agency: Tycoon Sports Inc.). Could you tell us how did you feel that night knowing that you would be the first ever Mali player to represent your country in the NBA?
Draft night was a very the most memorable moment in my life. It was unbelievable to be drafted in the most dominant and advertised basketball league in the world. Yes, I was drafted before some of the more known names in both european and US collegiate basketball, but that was not really all that important to me. What really mattered is that a young man from a very rural part of one of the poorest country in the world was about to join the major league of the richest country in the world. It was not something I could have ever dreamed of and I am sure many asked themselve that night the following question: Where in the world is MALI? And that was important to me that night of course I was also thinking about my family back home and what I would be able to do to help them now.
You played for Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Lakers and after two years in NBA you moved to China where you spent most part of your career. What did you like most about playing in China?
What I like most about playing in China was the people and their passion for basketball; the Chinese people really love basketball! Playing in the NBA I was already aware of how international and global the sport of basketball was, but I was still amazed by the interest and passion that the Chinese people had for the sport. I remember every game so many fans coming, sometime in very cold gymnasium, and cheering with such great passion for their teams. I also want to mention how humble people are in China, and that was everyone that I met from regular citizens to basketball stars, all were very nice and humble; I appreciated that. Great Place! Great People!
In March 2010 you joined Mornar from Bar and played for them in Montenegrin league and Balkan league. You made it to the Semifinals of Montenegro league and you showed your class even though you were already a veteran. Why you decided to move to Montenegro at that point of your career?
Going to Montenegro was just an opportunity that came up, which I welcome very much. I decided to move to Montenegro because I had already spend a lot of time in China and I was edging toward the last stretch of my career, so going back close to where it all started sounded good to me. I did not expect it to be any different than Slovenia in term of style of basketball and wanted to see how I will do in the Montenegrin League.
Knowing that Slovenia and Montenegro were part of former Yugoslavia it was not probably hard for you to adapt to the living conditions and language barrier. What are your impressions from Montenegro?
You are absolutely right that adapting in Montenegro was not hard for me giving their historic relationship with Slovenia. In fact, there were not much to adapt for me and it felt almost like a homecoming. You know, wherever I have been it is really the people that I enjoyed the most. And Montenegro was not any different, people were very welcoming and nice to me. Sports is one of the best way to break all barriers in my opinion; whether it is barriers between races, countries, cultures, or even religions, sports just seem to bring people together and that is very nice I think.
After playing two more seasons in Iran and Canada you decided to retire at the end of 2011. Did you feel it was perfect time to call it the end at the age of 34?
Yes, I did feel it was the perfect time to end. As you know, I had been doing a lot of travel around the world during my basketball career, flying in very tight airplane seats for some time more than 10 hours, sleeping in hotel beds that were not even close in length to my height, eating out almost every day, etc. Although all this is nothing compared to some of the conditions that I lived while growing up in MALI, it start taking a physical and even a psychological toll on you as you get older. I was blessed and very thankful that throughout my career to that point, I never had any major injury, and looking at the direction that my career was taking I felt that it was time to end while healthy and enjoy a more stable lifestyle.
How did your organize your free time after retirement and does Soumaila Samake have plans to stay inside basketball world?
After retiring, I took some time to relax and figure out what is next for me. I have two great sons that I now have a better relationship with, which is probably the most important thing to me. Of course at 34, I also need to find something else that I could do for income and one of the thing that I always wanted to do is start a trucking business in the US. So right now, I am driving a huge 18-wheeler interstate in the US and plan to start my own trucking company in 2017. What is interesting about this is that I would not have ever dream of driving or owning a car in my life had not been for basketball. So yes, I do plan to stay inside the basketball world. I don't even thing it is a choice since all my good and closest friends were met through basketball, and almost all my former teammates in MALI are basketball coaches; whether it is local teams or national teams. I follow the NBA on a daily basis and I look forward to seeing another player from MALI step in this great league and I believe that will be very soon with talented guys like Cheik Diallo and his generation.
Thank you for this interview Soumaila. I wish you all the best in all your future endeavours.
Thank you very much for an opportunity to tell my story. And a special thanks to all the great and helpful people that I met throughout my career way too many to name.
Latkovic number one in Montenegro for round 19 (by Court Side) - 14 hours ago
follow us on
Guard Milos Latkovic (196-G-93, agency: Dynamics Global Management) had a great game in the last round for Lovcen, receiving a Court Side Player of the Week award for round 19.
The 23-year old player was the main contributor (35 points, five rebounds and four assists) to his team's victory, helping them to outclass Jedinstvo (#7, 7-10) with 34-point margin 98-64. Lovcen maintains the 4th position in Montenegrin Erste Liga. They would have been even better if they hadn't lost a few games... [read more]
Guard Milos Latkovic (196-G-93, agency: Dynamics Global Management) had a great game in the last round for Lovcen, receiving a Court Side Player of the Week award for round 19. The 23-year old player was the main contributor (35 points, five rebounds and four assists) to his team's victory, helping them to outclass Jedinstvo (#7, 7-10) with 34-point margin 98-64. Lovcen maintains the 4th position in Montenegrin Erste Liga. They would have been even better if they hadn't lost a few games earlier this season. Lovcen will need more victories to improve their 10-7 record. In the team's last game Latkovic had a remarkable 72.7% from 2-point range and got four three-pointers out of 6 attempts. He just recently signed at Lovcen, being already a very valuable addition to the team. Milos Latkovic has solid league stats. He is league's best scorer averaging so far 22.3ppg. Latkovic is in league's top in assists (4th best: 5.0apg) and averages impressive 2.3spg,55.0% FGP and 41.7% from behind 3-point line.
The second best player in last round's games was another Lovcen's star - young Vasilije Knezevic (202-C-96). Knezevic had a very good evening with 27 points, 9 rebounds and 4 assists. Of course together with Latkovic he helped Lovcen with another comfortable win outscoring the lower-ranked Jedinstvo (#7, 7-10) 98-64. Lovcen's 4th position in the standings has not changed. His team's 10-7 record is not bad at all. Knezevic is one of the most experienced players at Lovcen and similarly like Milos Latkovic has a reputation of one of team's most reliable players.
Third on the list of top players last round was center Boris Jeknic (203-C-89) of Ulcinj (#5). Jeknic showcased his all-around game by recording 23 points, six rebounds and seven assists in the last round. He was a key player of Ulcinj, leading his team to a 92-83 win against slightly lower-ranked S.Centar (#6, 7-10). Ulcinj needs these victories very badly if they think about getting closer to top teams. Their record at this point is 9 victories and 8 lost games. Jeknic has a very solid season. In 17 games in Montenegro he scored 13.1ppg. He also has 5.7rpg and FGP: 64.2%.
Other top performing players last week: 4. Djoko Salic (213-C-95) of Sutjeska - 18 points, 11 rebounds and 4 assists 5. Milan Latkovic (184-G-86) of Ulcinj - 24 points, 4 rebounds and 9 assists 6. Marko Koljevic (191-G-90) of S.Centar - 32 points and 3 rebounds 7. Nikola Rondovic (207-PF-91) of Ibar Rozaje - 20 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists 8. Marko Ljujic (207-C-90) of Ibar Rozaje - 14 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists 9. Dejan Bjelic (209-C-90) of Jedinstvo - 18 points and 7 rebounds 10. Dragoje Djokovic (190-G-93) of Ulcinj - 15 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists
The Player of the week is chosen based on efficiency calculation, but also including game result, importance of the game, if played recorded double-double/triple-double, etc. The efficiency formula is a combination of various formulas used by different basketball organizations/leagues. We got involved many basketball scouts and journalists to assure it's accuracy. The formula: 1.5*PTS + 3* (REB+AST+ST+BL-TO) - 2*BSAG - 4*PF + 3*PFRV + 4* (2FGPM+3FGPM) + 1.5*FTM - 3* (2FGPA-2FGPM) - 3* (3FGPA-3FGPM) - (FTA-FTM)
The Player of the Week awards are presented by Court Side. Court Side is the global leader in basketball management, and is widely regarded as the most dynamic and innovative company of its kind. It was the first Basketball Agency to launch its own website, and the first to have its own database. Court Side has more agents and manpower within its organization, than any other competitor, and its international network of basketball contacts is still unparalleled.
Buducnost is the new-old winner of Montenegrin Cup. Even though nothing has really changed this time Buducnost could be considered lucky because one shot decided their destiny and this time this shot was in the hands of Antabia Waller (191-G-88, college: Auburn), Mornar's sharp shooter who missed a wide open shot from a central position to secure a big win for his team. But Buducnost won at the end (72-68). Buducnost started the game much better and opened it with a 20-11 lead in the firs... [read more]
Buducnost is the new-old winner of Montenegrin Cup. Even though nothing has really changed this time Buducnost could be considered lucky because one shot decided their destiny and this time this shot was in the hands of Antabia Waller (191-G-88, college: Auburn), Mornar's sharp shooter who missed a wide open shot from a central position to secure a big win for his team. But Buducnost won at the end (72-68). Buducnost started the game much better and opened it with a 20-11 lead in the first quarter which was defended by the halftime. However, in the third quarter Mornar played much better, Octavius Ellis (208-C-93, college: Cincinnati) protected the basket and Buducnost's big men got in foul trouble. The last quarter was a very exciting experience for everybody in the gym because Mornar got the lead back and Buducnost's rotation did not bring any results. But in the last few minutes thanks to outstanding performances by Nemanja Gordic (193-PG-88) and Suad Sehovic (197-G/F-87) Buducnost won the game and celebrated another Cup title. Sehovic and Gordic scored 15 points each for the winners and most of these points came in the crucial moments. On the other side former Buducnost's talent Boris Bakic (193-G-86, agency: BeoBasket) scored 17 points.
KK Ibar Rozaje (Erste Liga) signed 25-year old Slovenian guard Stefan Vukovic (196-98kg-92, college: Blue Mountain) after he was tested there shortly. He played recently at KK Splosna plovba Portoroz in Slovenian Liga Nova KBM, but left. In 9 games he had 10.4ppg, 5.0rpg, 2.4apg and 1.2spg this season. The last season Vukovic played at Studentski Centar Podgorica where in 6 Erste Liga games he recorded 3.5ppg and 2.0rpg. He was named to SSAC All-Academic Team in 2015. Vukovic graduated fr... [read more]
KK Ibar Rozaje (Erste Liga) signed 25-year old Slovenian guard Stefan Vukovic (196-98kg-92, college: Blue Mountain) after he was tested there shortly. He played recently at KK Splosna plovba Portoroz in Slovenian Liga Nova KBM, but left. In 9 games he had 10.4ppg, 5.0rpg, 2.4apg and 1.2spg this season. The last season Vukovic played at Studentski Centar Podgorica where in 6 Erste Liga games he recorded 3.5ppg and 2.0rpg. He was named to SSAC All-Academic Team in 2015. Vukovic graduated from Blue Mountain College in 2015 and it is his second season as a professional player.
Copyright (c) 1998-2017 Eurobasket Inc. Disclaimer
Do not copy, redistribute, publish or otherwise exploit information that you download from the site !
Do not encumber, license, modify, publish, sell, transfer or transmit, or in any way exploit, any of the
content of the site, nor will you attempt to do so.