Toronto Raptors: Masai Ujiri aims to repay faith shown by NBA club

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Masai Ujiri with the NBA championship trophy in 2019Masai Ujiri's Toronto Raptors won the NBA championship for the first time in 2019

Masai Ujiri hopes to repay the loyalty shown in him by Toronto Raptors after signing a new contract with the former NBA champions.

The 51-year-old Nigerian-Canadian agreed a multi-year deal in August to remain as president of the Raptors, as well as becoming vice-chairman.

"Toronto has always been home," he told BBC Sport Africa.

"There is a lot that has been built there and it means a lot. I think loyalty is a big part of what we do."

Ujiri has led the Raptors since 2013, with the highlight coming when the team were crowned NBA champions in 2018-19.

With the regular season looming, he is itching to improve on last season when the Raptors finished fifth in the Atlantic Division and 12th overall in the Eastern Conference.

"There is a mission, there are plenty more jobs to be done," he added.

"My family loves it there, we are Canadians too and I am happy that I am staying,"

The Raptors tip off the NBA season against Washington Wizards on 20 October when they will play in Toronto for the first time since February 2020, having been unable to play in Canada because of Covid-19 travel restrictions.

"Last year was a nightmare for us and we have woken up from it now, and hopefully we have started to dream bigger again," he said.

Following the departure of their top all-time player Kyle Lowry, Raptors are rebuilding and will bank on a roster including OG Anunoby, Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam along with number four draft pick Scottie Barnes.

Pascal Siakam in action for Toronto RaptorsCameroon's Pascal Siakam led the Toronto Raptors for points-per-game and rebounds-per-game last season

"We are building a young team and we are growing again," Ujiri said.

"When you reach a level where you win a championship and then you start to come down, you have to figure a way to build again. That is what we are going to do.

"It is going to be difficult sometimes, but this is why we are here: to compete, build, grow and develop young talent. We are proud of that."

Building 100 courts for Africa

Meanwhile, Ujiri has committed to build 100 basketball courts around Africa through his Giants of Africa foundation to help develop the sport around the continent.

"I feel there is a lot of talent in Africa and I know so many things are going to come out of this - where kids use basketball as a path through their development," he said.

"However we get to 100, we are going to choose environments - schools, communities, places - that have good basketball history and give kids and youth a chance to do something that they love.

"In terms of the countries and how many, by the grace of God it is all over the continent. I have an opportunity from the job I have, and it is an obligation for me to give back on the continent."

Justin Trudeau and Masai Ujiri in SenegalMasai Ujiri joined Justin Trudeau when the Canadian prime minister visited Senegal in February last year

Ujiri was in northern Kenya this month to open a court at the Samburu Girls Foundation.

"We have developed a relationship with this community in a school-type environment, where there are lots of girls who have been brought together who have been rescued from [female genital] mutilation (FGM) and early marriage," he said.

"We have had a relationship with them for years and wanted to come and do something with them and give them something special.

"When you go to solve issues of FGM and early marriages, how do you get that done? The dream is one day that has all been eliminated and this becomes an educational institution.

"Basketball has given us that opportunity to come and do this."

Additional reporting by Isaac Fanin.

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