For Nicola Djogo, competing for Canada on the global basketball court was the experience of a lifetime.
The 17-year-old Stoney Creek native says playing with the Cadet Men’s National Team at August’s FIBA U17 World Championship in Dubai is an experience he’ll never forget and he’s looking forward to passing on what he’s learned when he begins his final run with the Saltfleet Storm senior boys basketball team this season.
“Representing and playing for your country is the highest honour for basketball players at any age. It really felt like a dream come true,” said the six-foot-six guard. “Being able to play at the highest possible level, you learn and obtain certain knowledge that is hard to gain during high school ball. I’m very excited to share the things I’ve learned and add them into the system we have at Saltfleet.”
Canada finished sixth at the 16-country championship with a 4-3 record.
The United States finished first, followed by Australia and Serbia.
“As a group, we weren’t completely satisfied with the result,” said Djogo, adding he was in single digits for scoring and averaged four assists and rebounds a game. “We were expecting to medal. Having said that, I know for a fact that all 12 guys, as well as the coaching staff, put forth an effort of 100 per cent to ensure we did as best we could in the tournament.”
Canada lost to Puerto Rico 65-63 in its last game of the world championship, after beating China 92-81, Angola 106-59, Australia 85-74 and Japan 96-52. The team lost to Serbia 71-64 and France 76-66.
Djogo said the team was feeling “very confident” going into the last game, having defeated Puerto Rico in an exhibition tournament in France prior to arriving in Dubai. Canada finished first in that tournament, which also included Argentina, Australia and France.
Djogo said as Canada’s last game of the world championship went on, the team wasn’t playing to its full potential and could see it was going to be a tight match and would come down to who wanted it more.
“Both teams played extremely hard, but we just couldn’t come up with a few defensive stops, which gave Puerto Rico the opportunity to capitalize on our mistakes and they did,” he said. “We were definitely disappointed ending the tournament on a loss. Basketball is a sport of ups and downs and as long as we learn from what we could have done better, I consider it a great success.”
Djogo said he’s “truly fortunate” to have been given the chance to compete for Canada.
The road to making the team was a long one, but definitely worth the trip, he said.
“I was able to go to Dubai and France to represent Canada while playing a sport I love,” he said. “It doesn’t get better than that. Also, while I was overseas, I met so many people and learned so many things that will benefit me as I continue my basketball career.”
Djogo said playing at the world championship helped enhance his basketball IQ, both offensively and defensively.
“The coaches also helped me improve my shooting, one-on-one defence and understanding of the game,” he said. “I can most definitely incorporate what I’ve learned with the team to this upcoming season with Saltfleet. Whether it’s introducing new plays or passing on some tips, I’ll do anything to help us bring home a second consecutive OFSAA gold.”
Djogo will start his final stint with the Storm senior boys basketball team in the early winter.
He said his goal is to contribute to the team in whatever way he can.
“My ultimate hope for the team is simple — it may seem extreme — but I want us to go undefeated this season,” he said. “I am very confident about our group. I know we can not only repeat and win OFSAA, but also capture a city championship, as last year’s loss in the final left us all wanting more.”
Djogo said both Canadian and American universities have expressed an interest in having him play for them after he graduates high school.
He’ll make a decision on whether to go straight to university or play for a year at a prep school down south to further improve his basketball ability next June, he said.
“I want to ensure I’m going to a high academic university where I’ll make sure I get the best education possible, as well as keep improving as a basketball player,” Djogo said. “After university, I’ll see what opportunities I have to play professionally and then I’ll make my decision as to whether I will go play pro in Europe, enter the NBA draft or pursue something else. As of right now, nothing is set in stone.”
Djogo said while his future’s not certain, there’s one thing he knows for sure.
“I really want to thank my coaches from Saltfleet, my trainer from IBSA Academy and, most importantly, my mother, father and sister who have supported me 100 per cent,” he said. “They’ve all made basketball a possibility for me. If it wasn’t for their constant positivity and encouragement, I wouldn’t be in the amazing position I am today.”