Nicola Djogo hopes to dribble his way to the chance to play for Canada on the global basketball court next month.
The 17-year-old Saltfleet District High School Grade 12 student is among 14 athletes who will be participating in a second training camp with the Cadet Men’s National Team July 25 to 28 at Humber College. The athletes will be vying for 12 spots on the team’s starting roster for the opportunity to represent the nation at the FIBA U17 World Championship Aug. 8 to 16 in Dubai.
Djogo, a six-foot-six guard, made the cut after taking part in the first training camp June 26 to July 2 at Humber.
“I guess what I’ve been doing so far is what they (the coaches) like, so I’m just going to keep continuing to do that and hopefully it will pay off,” he said. “I’m happy with how far I’ve come; it’s a great accomplishment. Playing for Canada and representing the nation at the world championship would be the highest honour.”
Djogo’s journey began when he attended an open tryout for the Cadet Men’s National Team on June 25 at the college.
There were 80 athletes at the tryout.
Djogo, who plays for the Saltfleet Storm senior boys basketball team, said he was “a bit hesitant” about going at first.
“I knew there would be a lot of athletes there and the competition would be fierce,” he said. “My parents and coaches convinced me to go. Then I realized I could go all the way and I started becoming more and more confident and it just turned out really well.”
Djogo was among four attendees at the open tryout who were invited to join 30 other athletes from across Canada for the first training camp with the team.
The athletes participated in scrimmages and were evaluated on their performance and skills in different game situations.
Djogo said being invited to take part in the camp was a “dream come true.”
The experience also was nerve-racking, he said.
“You really had to play well every single day or you could get cut at any time,” Djogo said, adding the field was cut down to 16 and then narrowed down to 14. “Being invited back to participate in the second training camp was amazing. It was like all of the hard work I had put in over the years was finally coming to a head.”
Cadet Men’s National Team head coach Dave DeAveiro said he’s impressed by Djogo’s performance so far.
“He had a very good open tryout,” he said. “Then we brought him into the first training camp. He just continued to do the things that he was doing in the open tryout.”
DeAveiro said Djogo really excels on the offensive end in terms of scoring and shooting.
“You can never have enough guys who can do that on a team — that’s been his strength in camp, that he can score and he can shoot the ball,” he said. “He has a very good basketball IQ, which definitely helps him. He’s been a pleasant surprise, really, coming of nowhere, basically, and making it to the second phase.”
Djogo helped the Saltfleet Storm senior boys basketball team earn its first Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations AAA championship last season.
He was one of the top three scorers on the team last year.
Djogo also garnered a couple of all-star awards and Most Valuable Player honours along the way.
He said his experience with the team has helped him in his journey to make the Cadet Men’s National Team.
“The coaches and the players have prepared me in a big way because together we made it to the highest level of tournaments,” Djogo said. “There was a lot of pressure playing for gold at OFSAA, so getting used to playing at such a high level and under that much pressure has really helped me cope with the situations I’ve faced so far. Getting this far is a reflection not only of my hard work, but also the help I’ve received from others along the way.”
Djogo and the 13 other athletes participating in the second training camp will find out what role they’ll play on the Cadet Men’s National Team on July 27.
Twelve will be chosen for the starting roster.
Two will be selected as alternates.
The starters will then leave on July 28 to compete in an exhibition tournament in France, before making their way to the world championship in Dubai.
Saltfleet Storm assistant coach Jim Weatherbee said Djogo will fulfill whatever role he’s given in the best possible way.
“He will bring to the team an ability to get teammates involved with his decision making as a starter; he can be described as a selective scorer who balances the team needs first and then finds his own when needed,” he said. “Or he will bring to it a solid effort off the bench if that is his role. He’s always a positive influence both on and off the court with all of his teammates.”
Djogo said he’s feeling “pretty confident” heading into the second training camp.
“I just need to continue to do what I’ve been doing all along, which is scoring, shooting, finding my teammates and playing solid defence,” he said. “That’s pretty much it. If I continue to do that, I think I’ll be OK.”
Djogo said he’s really excited about the prospect of making the starting roster.
“Getting a chance to play the sport I love, while also representing my country is amazing,” he said. “Having the opportunity to play against the best players from all around the world also is pretty awesome. Whether I end up being a starter or an alternate, it’s an honour, because I’d still be representing Canada in some way.”