BWB Africa

BWB - Africa an eye-opener for Lampe

SOWETO (FIBA / Basketball Without Borders Africa) - Maciej Lampe had never visited Africa before so the Basketball Without Borders camp run by FIBA and the NBA in Soweto this week has been an eye-opener for him.

Born in Poland and raised in Sweden, the 20-year-old Lampe is trying to establish a career in the NBA and is currently a member of the New Orleans Hornets.

Lampe, speaking to PA Sport via telephone from South Africa, said he has relished his trip to a different land.

"It's nice to be here," he said. "Playing in the NBA takes up a lot of your time and you have to remember we are normal people and we have family commitments as well.

"We don't often get the time to do other things.

"This morning we went down to participate in one of the local colleges with some very young kids and it was really good experience.

"There was a big crowd and lots of sunshine and it was a memorable experience.

"It was good to be part of that - it was really smart - good to be part of something like that - something different.

"It has opened my eyes and I hope we can come back, maybe next year."

Lampe's life began in the Polish town of Lodz but it was only when his family moved to Sweden did hoops become a bigger part of his life.

"When I was five years old we moved to Sweden and I started playing soccer and hockey like most kids in Stockholm," said Lampe.

However, it was neither Poles nor Swedes that introduced him to hoops but another member of the worldwide basketball family.

"There were lots of Serbian kids in the neighbourhood and they liked playing basketball because it is a big sport in their home country and I started to hang around with them and started playing myself," said Lampe.

"The Serb kids really showed me how to play and I realised what a big sport it is, it's really very big."

The game is not as big in Poland, but Lampe wants that to change.

When he was chosen by the New York Knicks in the second round of the 2003 NBA Draft, Lampe became the first Polish-born player to be selected in the world's elite league.

That raised eyebrows from Warsaw to Krakow.

Though his career has not taken off yet, Lampe has learned very quickly that it can be difficult establishing roots as an NBA player.

He was traded to the Phoenix Suns in January 2004 and played 16 games for the Arizona team before switching to New Orleans last season and making 21 appearances for them.

In Poland, the national team is not among the giants of Europe, but Lampe says there is great potential.

He said: "The importance of the sport is increasing all the time there.

"There are lots of kids, especially young kids, who love the sport, love the game and it is getting better and better.

"There is a lack of money and experience, though, and also high level facilities."

Poland will not be taking part in the EuroBasket next week, and Lampe is hoping they will fight for European titles in the future.

"That's one of my dreams and one of the things that would make me unbelievably happy," said Lampe. "For that to happen, we have to develop young players."

Watching NBA games on TV made Lampe want to play the game professionally.

"I had lots of heroes when I was growing up and you could say that Michael Jordan was one of them but when I was a kid it was Magic Johnson and Larry Bird who really captured my imagination," said Lampe.

Lampe is not too concerned about life after basketball. He may be a huge success in the NBA, but he may return to Europe to play one day.

Once his playing days are over, who knows?

"Maybe I will try and run some camps in Sweden and Poland - that might be one idea but I don't like questions like this," he said.

"I have plenty of time to think and it will all depend on how things go from here. Maybe I will work with kids one day - we will find out how things go."

By the time he retires, it has been suggested that the NBA might well expand into Europe.

"I think it could happen in the future," said Lampe. "The game is developing fast in the world and one day we could see a new kind of competition.

"The opportunity is there for the NBA to link up with some European competitions."

By Tom Ross, PA Sport, Exclusively for FIBA