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

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

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The six-foot-seven teen has taken that advice to heart now that she is 7,300 kilometers away from her parents and five siblings, and is acting for Royal Crown Academic School.

“My father told me to be polite, but also to be disciplined, and never forget where you came from,” Mara said last week between Class 12 classes.


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

Ultimately, Mara hopes to graduate to the NBA and serve as a positive example for young players in his country, where a military coup took place over the summer.

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Mara said, “With knowing who I am and what I want to be, comes a responsibility.” “It’s very important to me.”

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

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

Mom Meena remained at home raising six children, all of whom have a passion for sports. Mara grew the fastest, and seemed to show the most promise.

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

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

“The big part was getting all the documents you need to bring someone like him to Canada,” said Axillas, who played Division I ball with DePaul. “We had to talk to the embassies in their country and we had to talk to the embassies here, but that’s all we had to do with a person like him.”

For Mara – everyone refers to her by her last name – the decision to leave her parents and country during the coup was clearly difficult and emotional.

Colonel Mamdi Doumbouya became Guinea’s interim president in September after seizing power from Alpha Condé, who was democratically elected but protested after the constitution was changed by referendum, opening a way for a third term in office. That period included tax hikes, cuts in police funding and crackdowns on opposition leaders, some of whom died in prison.

Doumbouya was sworn in on 1 October, when Mara was making her way to the royal crown of Scarborough.

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

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

Mara recognizes the opportunity before her, 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. Markham.

School is fun, they say, but disciplined. 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 the students stay at a nearby hotel. A bus takes them back to the Royal Crown bright and early each weekday morning.

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

“I come from home, and I knew everyone there. I knew the streets and the neighborhoods,” Mara said. “I was wearing flip-flops at home, and now it’s winter and I need a hoodie and warm There’s clothes to wear… but these are the challenges I want.”

Mara has helped Royal Crown start 4-1 in the OSBA, which has 17 schools – including powerhouse Orangeville Prep and United Scholastic Academy. And he is not alone in his experience. Teammate Thierno Sayla is from the same hometown of Guinea. Dozens of young athletes have left home halfway around the world to participate and play. On the wall of the gym near the Royal Crown are flags of more than 30 countries, recognizing the heritage of students past and present.

While Mara has cited NBA All-Stars Zach LaVine and Paul George as inspirations, he also looks to Royal Crown grads Latasha Lattimore and Shayne-Day Wilson, who accepted offers from Division I schools in August. Australia’s current women’s team star Emerson Devney is on the same path.

The local basketball scene continues to produce high-end possibilities. Canadian Shadon Sharp – who attended HB Beale in London, Ont. and is now a senior at Dream City Christian in Glendale, Ariz. – I have a top ranked high schooler ESPN’s Class of 2022 and is committed to the University of Kentucky. and Oshawa’s Eliza Fisher, who attends Toronto’s Crestwood Preparatory College, has been ranked by ESPN as one of the top recruiters for 2023.

“(Mara) are constantly being recruited by DI schools,” Axilas said. “He already propels himself like a professional player, and understands every rep. With that, he pops off the screen when you look at him – in terms of his athletic ability, his jumping ability. In terms of capacity.

“We tell people that he can touch Shani, he can jump so high. He works hard in every game and he wants to be a great player.”

Mark Zwolinski is a Toronto-based sports reporter for Granthshala. Follow him on Twitter: @markzwol
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