2018Feb 6

A Game of Adjustments

xune4c618acq7v7p Nelson Yengue – Laurentian Voyageurs (Men’s Basketball)

Maybe everything happens for a reason.

In 2014 I was a victim of Identity theft. With no passport and no Visa, this was the beginning of a two-year span that I spent stuck in Halifax. And by stuck, I mean unable to work, go to school, or even leave the country to go back to Cameroon. For the first time since the age of 15 when I came over to North America, I was dependent on people. Also, for the first time since the age of 15, when my life had been consumed with academics and training for basketball, I had way too much time on my hands. This was the toughest time of my life for sure. I had been used to independence and a structured schedule, so you can imagine how doing nothing was a difficult adjustment for me. I am often told by others that they would’ve just given up if they were in my situation. Looking back now, I would say it was my positive attitude and faith in Jesus that allowed me to persevere through this difficult time.

Let’s take you back to how I got there.

I was born in Yaoundé, Cameroon but I grew up in a smaller village called Nkongsamba; a village in Western Cameroon that has roughly the same population as Sudbury. I’m the youngest of six siblings. I have four brothers and one sister and we are all still close to this day, despite my oldest sibling being almost 20 years older than I am.

Growing up, I enjoyed playing sports. I played volleyball, handball and basketball (ironically my least favorite sport at the time), but nothing compared to my passion for soccer. I always imagined I would be a professional soccer player one day. Even my current passion for basketball doesn’t compare to my passion for soccer growing up. I also loved video games. The memories of intense video game sessions with my brothers are some of my fondest memories to this day.

Around the age of 14, my parents and I started to have serious conversations about going to high school in America. Of course, I didn’t want to leave home but I knew it was the right thing to do. My older brother had already made the move and I knew the opportunities I would have in the US were much better than in Cameroon. My brother had helped me secure an academic scholarship to his high school in Atlanta by telling the coach (who also owned the school) about me.

I was only 15 years old when my coach and brother picked me up from the airport.  I spoke absolutely no English and my brother was the only person I knew. I had told my brother about my abilities and how I was able to dunk, but it had been two years since he left Cameroon and I had not seen him since then; so even he didn’t believe me. A few days after being picked up from the airport, I was asked to showcase myself before a practice. Essentially, I put on a dunk clinic. Not only did my brother believe me, but the coach was so impressed that he gave me a jersey and I joined the team for practice.


You can imagine how difficult it was for a 15-year-old kid coming over to a foreign country not knowing a word of the language and only knowing his brother. I was lucky that there were 2 guys from Cameroon (One of whom was James Siakam, Raptor Pascal’s older brother) and 2 guys from the Congo who were French-speaking. In fact, I didn’t have a single class without at least one of those guys in it during my first year. They were huge in helping me not only understand what was going on in class, but also in helping me adjust to my new life.

My start in basketball didn’t go all that smoothly. My grade 9 year was pretty difficult. Keep in mind I had never played basketball competitively before that year. I had to adjust to regular practices and playing the sport in an organized setting. My passion was still soccer, and believe me, I was heartbroken when I realized there was no soccer team at my school. I had only played around 4 games that year and that summer I was looking to transfer to a school that had a soccer team. Unfortunately, or rather fortunately looking back on it, the transfer never materialized. During the first semester of my grade 10 year, I had a moment of self-reflection. I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to transfer and that basketball was my route to earning a scholarship; and ultimately an education. So, I began to put in the work.


“So, I began to put in the work”


By the second semester of grade 10, the work I put in had already started to pay off.  I was starting for the junior varsity team, the varsity team, and the prep team. Sometimes, I started for all three in the same day and didn’t leave the floor. My body was so sore after, but it was worth it. At this point, I knew that a basketball scholarship was within reach. In grade 11, I already had an offer from a division-two school. In my grade 12 year, I had several division-one offers. I had my sights set on going to college in the U.S, but unfortunately it never materialized. My next option was to look to play for a Canadian University. My brother was already playing at Dalhousie so he took care of most of the process. When choosing a University, being able to take courses in French became a priority for me. I found that I was quite reserved in high school because I didn’t know English. I also felt like I was starting to lose my French. Laurentian University was a perfect fit for me, and that’s how I became a Voyageur.

extThe adjustment to University basketball in Canada from high school ball in the States was steep. Back in Atlanta, there was so much size and athleticism but much less focus on the fundamentals and skills. I mostly played small forward in high school and my coaches preached driving and finishing at the rim. Shooting 3’s was considered soft. Despite being thought of as a good shooter, I only ever shot mid-ranges. I maybe shot 5 3-pointers in high school (I made 4 of them). When I came to Laurentian, I was shocked to find that everyone was shooting 3’s. That wasn’t nearly the biggest adjustment I had to make. As I mentioned, there wasn’t nearly as much size and athleticism north of the border. As a result, the games were much less physical and the refs were putting up with much less physicality. I must have fouled out of my first four games at Laurentian and I never fouled out of a game in high school. Still though, my biggest adjustment remained. I had to adjust from being a small forward in high school to being a power forward/center in University.

As you could imagine, it took quite some time to overcome these changes. My first year at Laurentian, I struggled with nagging injuries. I only missed two games that year, but the injuries took quite a toll. My second year, our team had lost a lot of height and I had to be the starting center. It wasn’t ideal but I did what the team needed from me. Playing full time at the 5 against bigger players was a difficult challenge. It was my third year that I would finally say I had adjusted to the game and felt comfortable.

Near the end of my third season, I had applied to renew my passport. I wanted to return to Cameroon for a vacation during the summer and I had never been back home since leaving for high school. When I sent my passport in, I never got it back. After making some calls, I figured out that it got lost in the system. When I finally went in to get a new passport, it was blocked. At this point I figured out that someone stole my identity. Shortly after, my Visa was due for renewal. Without your passport, you cannot renew your Visa. Without a Visa, I couldn’t work, go to school, or leave the country. I decided to stay in Halifax during that time as my brother was living there.

The one person who I owe the biggest thanks to is my girlfriend. Not only did she help me stay positive during my time in Halifax, but she encouraged me to follow my dreams and enroll in engineering when I got back. I was planning on going into engineering originally but I didn’t think I would be able to balance basketball, engineering, and a part-time job, so I enrolled in commerce instead.

I remember the day I found out this nightmare was over. I was overcome with so many emotions. I was grateful, shocked, and relieved all at the same time. Although, there was part of me that looked down into my hands and thought: “this stupid piece of paper cost me almost three years of my life”.


“this stupid piece of paper cost me almost three years of my life”


I remember praying for good players before I joined the team for training camp in the summer of 2016. When I showed up, I realized immediately that my prayers had been answered. From the onset of camp, I knew we had the tools to win a national championship, we just had to put in the work. That made my first training camp in almost three years slightly easier. Admittedly, after two years off, I wasn’t in the greatest shape physically. As a result, I was playing catch-up and my body felt beat up all year. This year, everything has come together. My body feels great, I’m playing the best basketball of my life and most of all, we have a real shot at the national championship.


Looking back, I can truly appreciate the role that soccer played in allowing me to achieve success in basketball. The ultra-physical, no-rest style of soccer I played back in Cameroon, prepared me for the physicality of high school basketball. I would say that my footwork is probably my best and most important skill as I am often asked to match up against bigger guys in the post. My footwork can be attributed to soccer and a year of Jeet Kune Do (Bruce Lee’s martial art form).  My background in soccer also taught me teamwork, passing, and selflessness. The soccer pitch is literally too crowded for egos. My ability to see the floor and get my teammates involved can be traced back to soccer. As I follow the careers of Joel Embiid and Pascal Siakam, two Cameroonians who started playing competitive basketball in their teens, I can see their backgrounds in soccer in the way they play. If only James was blessed with his brother’s height, there would be another Siakam in the NBA.

I’m the type of person who likes to take things one day at a time. I live in the moment and put my best effort forth in whatever I’m doing; whether it’s engineering, basketball, or something else. Even though it’s my final year of eligibility, I’ll be back next year to finish my engineering degree because I started late. It’s my dream to play basketball professionally and if there is an opportunity to play professionally, of course I’ll take it. I also love engineering and I’ll be happy as an engineer too. The good news is, there is a demand for engineers all over the world and there are also professional basketball leagues all over the world. The possibilities are endless and I’m exited for what the future holds. For now, I’m just focused on doing whatever I can to help my team win the national championship.


Written By: David Miller

Contributor: Nelson Yengue






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