Toronto Star

‘We tell people he can touch Saturn.’ At 18, Mamborou Mara left Guinea during a coup to chase his basketball dream in Toronto

Orignally published on 2021-11-27 18:17:00 by

One of the last things Mamborou Mara’s father told him when he left Guinea to play basketball in Toronto was to “be humble.”

The six-foot-seven teen has taken that advice to heart now that he’s 7,300 kilometres away from his parents and five siblings, and starring for Royal Crown Academic School.

“My father said to be humble but to be disciplined, too, and never forget where you came from,” Mara said this past week between Grade 12 classes.

Watching the 18-year-old on the court — gliding at game-breaking speed — it’s easy to see why he’s attracting interest from Division I schools in the United States.

Ultimately, Mara hopes to graduate to the NBA and act as a positive example for young players in his country, where there was a military coup in the summer.

“I know that there is a responsibility that comes with who I am and what I want to be,” Mara said. “That is very important to me.”

He grew up with two brothers and three sisters in Conakry, Guinea’s capital. Mara said his father, Fadama, who works for the French Embassy in Guinea, encouraged him to take up the sport.

“When I was in Africa, after school I was at home a lot,” Mara said. ‘My father came up to me and said, ‘Why do you want to stay at home all the time? Why not go out and play basketball?’ That’s when I started playing basketball. I was 13 years old then.”

Mom Mina stayed home to raise six children, all of whom have an affinity for the game. Mara grew the quickest, and began to show the most promise.

With the national under-18 team, he played tournaments in Europe and across Africa. At the FIBA African under-18 championship in 2020, he was among the top players.

From there, the power of social media helped Mara catch the attention of schools in North America, including Royal Crown. Athletic director Chris Exilus said the school followed a complex protocol to obtain the international accreditation for Mara to play in Toronto.

“The big part was getting all the documents you need to get someone like him to Canada,” said Exilus, who played Division I ball with DePaul. “We had to talk to embassies in his country and we had to talk to embassies here, but with a person like him we just had to do more of it.”

For Mara — everyone refers to him by his last name — the decision to leave his parents and country during a coup was obviously difficult and emotional.

Col. Mamady Doumbouya became interim president of Guinea in September after wresting power from Alpha Condé, who had been democratically elected but sparked protests after changing the constitution by referendum, opening a path to a third term in office. That term included tax hikes, police funding cuts and crackdowns on opposition leaders, some of whom died in prison.

Doumbouya was sworn in on Oct. 1, around the time Mara was making his way to Scarborough’s Royal Crown.

“It was my choice to come here and it was a long journey to come here, but everyone is treating me very well,” Mara said.

He misses his family, but keeps in touch regularly: “I talk to them Saturdays and Sundays, but they know Monday to Friday I am studying and training.”

Mara recognizes the opportunity in front of him, at a time when Royal Crown — a private school with men’s and women’s teams in the Ontario Scholastic Basketball Association — is expanding its student residence and planning to build a state-of-the-art facility in Markham.

School is fun, he says, but regimented. Mara, whose first language is French, takes two courses at a time in 10-week intervals, with class sizes of 20 or less. After school, students stay in a nearby hotel. A bus takes them back to Royal Crown bright and early each weekday morning.

He says there was a bit of culture shock at first. He’s also bracing for his first Canadian winter.

“I come from home, and I knew everyone there. I knew the streets and the neighbourhoods,” Mara said. “I was wearing flip-flops at home, and now winter is coming and I have to wear hoodies and warm clothes … but these are challenges I want.”

Mara has helped Royal Crown to get off to a 4-1 start in the OSBA, which features 17 schools — including powerhouses Orangeville Prep and United Scholastic Academy. And he isn’t alone in his experience. Teammate Thierno Sylla is from the same hometown in Guinea. Dozens of young athletes have left homes halfway around the world to attend and play. Royal Crown has flags from over 30 countries painted on a gym wall, recognizing the heritage of students past and present.

While Mara mentions NBA all-stars Zach LaVine and Paul George as inspirations, he also looks to Royal Crown grads Latasha Lattimore and Shayanne-Day Wilson, who accepted offers from Division I schools in August. Current women’s team star Emirson Devenie, from Australia, is on the same trajectory.

The local basketball scene continues to produce high-end prospects. Canadian Shaedon Sharpe — who attended H.B. Beal in London, Ont. and is now a senior at Dream City Christian in Glendale, Ariz. — is the top-ranked high schooler in ESPN’s class of 2022 and has committed to the University of Kentucky. And Oshawa’s Elijah Fisher, who goes to Crestwood Preparatory College in Toronto, is ranked among the top recruits for 2023 by ESPN.

“(Mara) is constantly being recruited … by D-I schools,” Exilus said. “He carries himself like a professional player already, and understands every rep counts. With him, he just explodes off the screen when you see him — in terms of his athletic ability, in terms of his jumping ability.

“We tell people he can touch Saturn, he can jump so high. He plays hard every play, and he wants to be a great player.”


Conversations are opinions of our readers and are subject to the Code of Conduct. The Star does not endorse these opinions.

Orignally published on 2021-11-27 18:17:00 by

Back to top button