NBA Born & Bred: New show highlights the exciting talent emerging from African region

Egypt's Seif Hendawy among the youngsters with dreams of going all the way to the top

Seif Hendawy comes from a family full of talented basketball players. Photo: NBA Academy Africa
Powered by automated translation

“My dream is to go to the NBA; I want to be the next Egyptian to go to the NBA,” declares teenager Seif Hendawy as he slams a reverse dunk and then hangs loosely from the basketball rim, while pointing to the camera.

Those are the closing images of episode three of the NBA Africa original docuseries Born & Bred, which premiered on the NBA App last month.

The five-part series tells the stories of five current and former NBA Academy Africa prospects from Angola, Egypt, Nigeria, Senegal, and South Sudan, showcasing the diverse basketball talent the continent continues to produce.

Available exclusively via NBA League Pass, the league’s premium live game subscription service, Born & Bred revisits these young players’ roots, speaking to their families, coaches and friends, to highlight their origin stories and the journeys that led them to the NBA Academy Africa in Saly, Senegal and beyond.

Alongside Hendawy, the docuseries also features Nigerian NBA Academy Africa graduate Reuben Chinyelu, a 19-year-old power forward from Lagos, who is entering his freshman season with Washington State University.

Episode two introduces us to Aginaldo Neto, a 17-year-old guard from Luanda, Angola; Khadim Rassoul Mboup, a 16-year-old forward from Senegal, is the protagonist of episode four, while South Sudan’s Khaman Maluach stars in episode five.

Hendawy was born into basketball, with his father, mother and grandfather all former players.

“We eat and breathe basketball,” he proudly says in the show.

His father Kaidar Hendawy is considered an Al Ahly and Egypt legend.

“He’s known for the games against Zamalek and Ittihad, he always dropped 20 points and 30 and crazy numbers. So I took this from him and I just continued my own legacy by myself,” added Hendawy.

The 18-year-old Cairene joined NBA Academy Africa in Senegal in 2021 after getting noticed by scouts during Egypt’s shock victory over Mali in the final of the FIBA U16 Africa Cup. Hendawy scored the game-winner for the Egyptians that day.

“Everyone thought we were going to lose but each and every one of us had something inside of him for winning and competing against those guys. They saw the winning character inside of me; I just like blew off and went on fire and we won,” he recalls.

Moving from Cairo to West Africa is not an easy transition but Hendawy consulted with his father, and they received some valuable advice from Mohab Yasser, who was the first Egyptian to join NBA Academy Africa before going to study and play for East Tennessee State University. Yasser turned pro after his freshman season, signing with Zamalek back in Cairo.

Yasser explained to Hendawy that the initial move to Saly would be difficult, adjusting to a new culture, food and lifestyle, but that it will ultimately prove to be a great experience.

Hendawy now describes being scouted by NBA Academy Africa as “the best thing that ever happened to me in my life”.

“We have a strength and conditioning coach, we have high-level coaches, we have the gym, we have the balls all day, we can practice mornings and nights. Our basketball IQ gets better each day,” Hendawy told The National in an interview last week, discussing the benefits of being at the academy.

“Our physicality and our athleticism just get better day by day. I don't find that in Egypt to be honest, where we practice once a day, whereas at the academy we practice two, three times a day. And you always compete, each and every position at the Academy there's always someone that you can compete with for you to get better and stronger and get smarter in basketball.”

A 6’6” (198cm) power forward, Hendawy played for Shooting Club, Al Ahly and Gezira Club as a youngster. He represented Egypt at the youth level and is one of three Egyptians currently at NBA Academy Africa.

“Seif’s a special kid,” the academy’s technical director Roland Houston told The National.

“He’s a kid I’ve had the pleasure of helping him grow in his space. Our first Egyptian kid was Mohab. And it’s something when you go from different parts of the continent, him being a North African kid going to West Africa, and having an open mind towards growth and development; I just think they get a chance to show the beauty of Africa. And how these African brothers can come together and learn from each other.

“So what Seif brings to the table is an openness to learn and to give. He'll share his stories about who he is, from which he came, and we just think that's extremely valuable and is special, it’s what makes the NBA Academy Africa special. And he's a hard-working young man. He's passionate. He's very family-oriented, if you know how he feels about his mother and his father. He was raised well.

“He's very respectful. He’s a proud Egyptian and he wants to make Egypt proud. He wants to make his family proud, and he wants to make the Academy proud. So he's just growing at a rapid pace, and it's good to see.”

Watching the docuseries, it becomes evident that there is no singular path to success when it comes to basketball. While someone like Hendawy started playing the game at a very young age, others showcased in the series only picked up a ball at 14 or 16.

“It shows the growth on the continent. As an academy, we're fully aware of who does what? So I have to give a lot of credit to the North Africans. You guys start playing basketball early, you know, in Tunisia, in Morocco, and in Egypt,” said Houston.

“And his father played, so he started very, very early. A lot of the places in West Africa, they start a little later. Angola, they start early. Certain countries start a little bit earlier. Which does a couple of things – he has what I call a high basketball IQ, he has a good feel for the game, and he has a very good skill set. Whereas some of the kids coming from West Africa, they might start a little slower, they catch up fast, because they're all quick learners. But he has kind of a head start as far as the knowledge of the game.”

Since his episode dropped, Hendawy has received countless messages from young players keen to follow in his footsteps.

“I feel like I'm getting more attention from the youth players in Egypt. I'm just trying to make an easy path for them, like the one that I took, and for them to understand and to know all the hard work that I put in, in the academy; it's not just given to you. It’s hard work that you have to put in,” says Hendawy.

One of the things the academy does very well, according to Hendawy, is showcasing its players.

“They make us travel the world. We explore different teams, different players, all ages, our age and older and professionals. And they give us a lot of opportunities to shine,” he said.

“If someone took it for granted, they are not going to give it to him, you’ve got to work for it. There are a lot of paths that you have, like Basketball Africa League Elevate, NBA Academy, Atlanta games, and right now the Winter Showcase in the G League. They’re really good at marketing us.”

Hendawy was speaking to The National from Orlando, Florida, where NBA Academy Africa took part in several games against other NBA academies on the sidelines of the NBA G League’s Winter Showcase. Executives from all 30 NBA teams attended the showcase to gather information about future prospects for the league.

The G League is the NBA’s official minor league and it includes 31 teams, 29 of which are directly affiliated with NBA franchises.

Egyptian player Abdullah Nasser was scouted directly from Al Ahly and joined the New York Knicks’ affiliate team, the Westchester Knicks, via the G League’s first-ever international draft. Hendawy got to meet Nasser in Orlando last week at the Winter Showcase.

“Abdullah Nasser is really talented. He has a lot of potential. He was one of the best players in Egypt until he went to Al Ahly and then for a few years his level went down. But I’m really happy for him to find this opportunity,” said Hendawy.

“That’s the thing, Abdullah Nasser wouldn’t be in the G League without people watching him, without scouts. He had this chance when he was in the BAL, where there were G League and NBA scouts. They had a look at him and said, ‘I want you’. That’s why I want scouts to come to Egypt and just look and see and explore more.”

Set to graduate from the academy at the end of the school year, Hendawy will soon start fielding scholarship offers from universities in the United States, as he looks to take the next step in his promising career. The lessons learnt from his time in Senegal are plenty.

“I couldn’t pick one thing,” he says. “I would say leadership and self-discipline and consistency; how to treat people from over the world, people with a different mentality, which means you have to be adaptable, you learn to say yes to a lot of things you’re not used to and have an open mind.

“You can’t just say no to everything and be stubborn, you have to have an open mind so you can learn new things.”

Only two Egyptians have played in the NBA in the past, Alaa Abdelnaby and more recently Abdel Nader, but neither grew up playing the game in Egypt and instead moved to the United States from a young age with their families. Does Hendawy feel confident he can achieve his NBA dream?

He responds by reciting the famous motto of Egyptian superstar singer and actor Mohamed Ramadan.

“I don’t want to sound arrogant but in the words of Mohamed Ramadan, ‘Trusting in God leads to success’,” he says.

“So I will keep training, and will push myself to my limits and keep working hard and I will never give up. When you are far away from your parents and your people, it’s easy to get down on yourself. But the key is to stay focused, and no matter what, keep training and training because that is what will ultimately make the difference between you and another player.

“Also, you never know who is watching you. So I have faith that if I keep working hard, the way I have been working hard, I will end up somewhere good.”

Does he have a dream college in mind to play for?

“I'm trying to look for a program where players share the ball, people moving, there are good shooters and a good big where I can pick and roll with him. And just like a brotherhood,” he replies.

“I don't want to go to a team that's separated, I want them to be like a brotherhood, where they like each other, they love each other, they care about each other and they have the coaches’ back. So this is what I'm looking for.”

Updated: December 26, 2023, 8:36 AM