Africa has been known for producing legendary NBA big men such as Hakeem Olajuwon, Joel Embiid, Dikembe Mutombo, Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka and Manute Bol for about 40 years. What Africa isn’t known for is producing players that can pass the ball to those big men.
Say hello to new G League Ignite point guard Thierry Serge Darlan, who is an African on a “mission” to change the narrative.
“When they talk about basketball in Africa, they always talk about the center, the big,” Darlan told Andscape. “It’s a big challenge to change that to talking about [a] point guard. In Africa, we’re not just known to run the floor and get rebounds. We can do many things, too. We can pass the ball. Create for others. That is my mission to show that African players can do more …
“I worked hard for this talent. I’m in good position to be the first.”
Darlan is a native of the Central African Republic and is an alumnus of the NBA Academy Africa. The 19-year-old also played in the Basketball Africa League during the 2022 season for Petro de Luanda (Angola). ESPN’s NBA draft analyst Jonathan Givony first reported that Darlan, who is 6-feet-7 and has a 7-foot-1 wingspan, would sign with the Ignite on March 2 intending to play next season, and it became official Thursday.
Darlan’s other goal is to become a coveted prospect for the 2024 NBA draft. With six NBA drafts picks in the last two years, the G League Ignite has been a proven training ground to fulfill NBA dreams. The Ignite hope to have three draft picks in 2023, including projected top-3 pick Scoot Henderson.
“I chose the Ignite because it’s the next step for my career,” Darlan said. “It’s not only going to help me grow as a basketball player, but also as a man. I think it’s a great program for me to improve in basketball and everything that I do.”
Darlan signed with the NBA Academy Africa in 2021 and is the third from the program to sign with the Ignite. The NBA Academy Africa is an elite basketball training center in Saly, Senegal, for top high school-age prospects from Africa. Darlan’s former NBA Academy Africa teammate Babacar Sane is also on the Ignite’s roster next season.
G League president Shareef Abdur-Rahim told Andscape that Darlan is “one of the top young players in the world.”
“He is a great story. He is a great illustration of the investment that the NBA has been making on the continent developing talent through the NBA Academy Africa,” Abdur-Rahim said. “For him to be identified through the NBA’s system to be an Academy Africa student that can matriculate through the Ignite kind of fits.”
Darlan was named MVP of the 2022 Basketball Without Borders Africa camp in Cairo. He led NBA Academy Africa to a title at the 2022 NBA Academy Games in Atlanta, scoring 32 points in the semifinals. He also represented the Central African Republic at the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 African Qualifiers, averaging 12.7 points and 6.0 rebounds in three games.
Darlan comes from one of the most notable basketball families in Africa. Darlan played for his uncle Bruno Darlan, who is the coach of the Central African Republic’s men’s basketball team. Thierry Darlan started playing for CAF’s national team at age 16 and would “love” to represent his country as the first to make it to the NBA.
“Everyone from my family played basketball,” Darlan said. “My grandfather was the first player picked on Central African’s national team. My uncle played on the national team, too. And also, my dad, too. They told me to always play hard and believe in yourself.”
Bruno Darlan told FIBA.com: “He is a player that wants to learn and he plays with his heart. Here in the national team, he is like any other player but after the game, he can be my boy again.”
Former Georgetown University guard Joe Touomou is very familiar with Darlan as he serves as the NBA Academy Africa’s associate technical director. The Cameroonian, who was one of five African players recruited in the final years of the John Thompson Jr. era at Georgetown and was known for his defense, expects Darlan to be a game changer for the development of point guards in Africa.
“It will mean a lot to young players from Africa who want to play the position and aspire to make it to the NBA someday,” said Touomou. “Also, the fact that he is a pure product made in Africa means a lot to me because that was one of my biggest goals when I started working at the NBA Academy Africa.
“People have been accustomed to post players coming from Africa as Hakeem, Dikembe, Manute paved the way many year ago. I want to show the world that Africa can also produce elite level guards with strong skills set and tremendous basketball IQ.”
Givony previously reported that NBA scouts are enamored with Darlan’s “impressive playmaking, shot-making prowess and defensive versatility,” and that he was one of the most highly sought after international prospects who turned down scholarship offers from Arizona, Kansas and Santa Clara. Darlan says he also learned to be more vocal at point guard while playing for the NBA Academy Africa.
Darlan suffered a “very scary” dislocated ankle during the Basketball Without Borders camp in Salt Lake City on Feb. 18. He says he expects to recover in time for the 2023-2024 G League season. He was disappointed about not playing in the BAL during the 2023 season due to the injury but hopes to play in the league in the future.
“It was very hard for me in the beginning,” Darlan said. “But after that, I had some good people around me and supported me who gave me some recovery [exercises]. I don’t fear about it too much. At the beginning, it was very scary. I didn’t think I would ever play basketball again. But the people around me [worked] hard and that is why I am here now …
“My ankle is very good right now. I don’t feel too much pain. I can walk. I can do some jogging. The next step will be running. I think I will be ready for the beginning of the season.”
Basketball Hall of Fame point guard Steve Nash was born in South Africa and raised in Canada. Former NBA point guard Emmanuel Mudiay was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and was raised in the United States after arriving with his family as a child after seeking asylum from the Congo. Miami Heat point guard Gabe Vincent is also member of the Nigerian national team, and was born in Modesto, California.
But in Darlan, Africa has an opportunity to have its first born-and-bred NBA floor general.
“What is unique about him is when you see him he could be a kid from New York or Chicago or be from L.A.,” Abdur-Rahim said. “With the style that he plays with, you wouldn’t pick up right away that he is from the continent. He is not a typical center, big guy or athletic wing. You don’t think of him that way. His power, his skill and versatility are what jumps out at you.”
Said Darlan: “Everything starts with one person. You have to know what you want and if you want to play that position. And if you want to play that position, you have to work on it.”