The NBA, Basketball Africa League Amplify The Sport In Rwanda

Not only are Rwandan children paying attention to the game of basketball, but some see it as a path to a brighter future.

In 2021, the National Basketball Association and the International Basketball Federation came together to create the Basketball Africa League, with a vision of exposing the African continent to basketball on a large scale. In 2024, their efforts, particularly in Rwanda, have paid off. Not only are Rwandan children paying attention to the game of basketball, but some see it as a path to a brighter future. 

As NPR reported, although there is excitement from the young players, some, like 19-year-old Lilliane Uwase, see a barrier, too. “If I study well, and I get some scholarship outside the country, I [can] go outside [the country] to show my talent … I will be a good player, and I would be a good doctor.” Uwase told NPR.

She continued, “Here in our country, some children who are poor cannot afford [basketball]. They see it is for rich girls and boys who want to joke around, but the poor ones cannot get that opportunity.” She is also not very tall, so she sometimes feels overlooked by scouts who may be looking for the next Kamilla Cardoso.

“Some who are tall can go to play outside the country, but short ones like me, it’s so difficult,” Uwase said. “Give us an opportunity, the poor ones, to play outside the country to prove our skills. Because even if you are taller than me, I can play better than you. Short ones can play like the taller ones.”

Rwanda’s Armée Patriotique Rwandaise basketball team (APR) is representing their country in the league for the first time against teams from 12 countries in Africa, and hopes are high. 

As Lt. David Nsengiyumva, APR’s Assistant Manager (coach in American terms,) told NPR, “There’s a whole lot of excitement around APR because it’s been about 14 years since we won a local championship,” Nsengiyumva said. “And that really hyped up everybody. And now that we get to represent the country in the BAL, it’s a huge honor for us.” There is, he says, another benefit. “Kids wanted to go to the U.S. to play basketball, but now, because of the BAL, they can play in the local league, go to the BAL, and play high-level basketball while being in the country.”

16-year-old standout, Yassin Nshimiyimana, told NPR that he believes it is possible for basketball to overtake the country’s sport of choice, football, which in America is called soccer. He also wants to pursue basketball as a way to get famous and make money. “I want to be famous, to be known like ‘Yassin is a great player we have in Rwanda,” Nshimiyimana said. “I get the money ‘cause you can’t play without getting money while you’re famous.”

He continued, sounding very much like a 16-year-old African version of Nikola Jokic, the two-time MVP center who plays for the Denver Nuggets. Jokic also considers basketball as his job. “Basketball for me, it’s like I take it like a career job. I see people in Rwanda who play basketball, they reach far,” Nshimiyimana said. And I think to be playing basketball, I’ll be famous, and my life will be good playing basketball.”