From Tanzania to London: A basketball dream comes true
London Basketball Academy is a big draw for aspiring players, even without ‘bells and whistles’
Atiki Ally knew Canada was going to be cold, but he didn't expect a blizzard to greet him on his first day in the country.
The hot sunny climate of his home country in Tanzania is all he knew before he landed in November of 2018.
"[It's] cold, just cold," the teen said when asked about his first impression of the country.
Ally flew halfway across the globe to train at the London Basketball Academy after being spotted at a local basketball camp. A coach there noticed Ally's determination and connected him with Angelo Provenzano, the academy's coach who then sponsored him.
"My mom, she cried a lot," he said, recalling the day he left home.
"Me too," he admitted. "But only a little bit."
Leaving was a considerable sacrifice, but Ally is certain his road to success starts in London.
He now stays with Provenzano's family, rooming with teammate Michael Matas, who left his family in Oakville to train in London.
"[The London Basketball Academy] was in the last three schools I was looking at. But then, I visited here and I knew I had to come. I could see right away it's such a tight-knit environment," he said.
"It may not have all the bells and whistles like some of the private schools might have, for example, but Coach Angelo is one of the best coaches in the country."
The sentiment is shared by the many players who travel far and wide, from Oakville and Guelph to Tanzania and South Sudan, all for a shot to be trained in the Forest city.
Many find billet families here like Provenzano's.
Ally and Matas say they get along well, connecting over their shared experience and a love for Mrs. Provenzano's cooking.
"I eat a lot," Ally said, laughing. "I put on 26 pounds."
"All of it muscle though," Matas responded. He recalls how lanky the six-foot-10 player was the first time he saw him, noting the extra pounds are helpful.
"We were told he was tall, but I was still surprised," Matas said.
"He's improved so much because he put in the work," he added.
Ally says building his basketball skills isn't the only development he is grateful for while here in London. He also enjoys his time at Saunders Secondary School along with his teammates.
"It's different for me. Back home, the classes are too big. It's harder to learn there," he explained.
Neither Matas nor Ally plan to shirk their academic careers while they train. Ally thinks medical school could be a contingency plan, while Matas is looking at physiotherapy.
Both players are in their final year of high school and are being noticed by several top schools.
Whether from nearby Oakville or far-off Tanzania, it doesn't matter; they're confident they'll be able to turn over the skills, and the community, they've found in London to reach the highest levels of the sport.