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CNN’s ‘African Voices’: African Basketball League

...CEO Ugo Udezue outlines his plans to export to the sport across the continent
By Damilare Ogunmowo

This week ‘African Voices’ examines the change makers who are shaking up the status quo and help build a better Africa.

Part of the programme reports from Lagos, Nigeria, where it meets Ugo Udezue, the CEO of the African Basketball League.

‘African Voices’ learns that Udezue’s love affair with basketball began at a young age, which led to him representing the Nigerian national team and offered him opportunities to go to the United States.

Udezue explains how significant these early years were: “Sports gave me a chance to understand that if you want something in life you have to go for it… There's no short cut with sports and I think what you put in is what you get out.”

Upon graduating from the University of Wyoming, Udezue became an agent in the NBA, and it was his experiences working at the pinnacle of the sport which eventually led to the creation of the African Basketball League.

Udezue tells CNN’s ‘African Voices’: “I want to cultivate all our Lebron James-es and our Kevin Durants here in Africa for Africa. We have the talent… the motivation is more about creating an opportunity for all those kids I see that are seven foot tall walking down the streets not doing anything.”

Modelled after the NBA, Udezue hopes the African Basketball League can provide both a social and economic platform for Nigeria. However, increasing interest in the sport undoubtedly has its challenges.

Udezue explains to CNN: “We're working on a system where there is no industry… What we're doing is so organic. Even the way people come to the games, we're still capturing the whole element. The fan behaviours, how people respond, you can't just bring a product from United States or Europe and think Africa is going to take it like that.”

Despite this, the African Basketball League has grown quickly, and currently consists of six teams playing in four different countries.

CNN’s ‘African Voices’ learns that Udezue is hoping for even further expansion still: “In the next three years we'll be in 20 countries in Africa… We want to create an opportunity for each individual franchise and each individual city to be a whole business entity that is profitable and can create jobs, opportunity, entertainment, a social environment and capture the whole dynamics when it comes to sports.”

As Udezue seeks to emphasise the social importance of sport, his hopes for the future remain optimistic: “The main benefactors of the ABL is not me, it's our children and our children's children. I want this to be the NBA in the next 30 years or the next 50 years. We are creating an opportunity for Africans, proudly owned by Africans.”

Also featured in this weeks ‘African Voices’ is Fred Swaniker, who has founded a university in Mauritius and Dr Kaitesi, who is saving lives as one of Rwanda’s first female surgeons.