AS Douanes' Jean-Jacques Boissy hopes BAL heroics lead to NBA Summer League shot

KIGALI, Rwanda -- AS Douanes star Jean-Jacques Boissy has not had the best, if any, luck with getting American teams to pay attention to him, but he hopes driving his team to an unexpected Basketball Africa League final will change that.

The team from Senegal defeated pre-tournament favourites Petro de Luanda in the BAL seminfinals this week, a shock result that sent the packed Kigali crowd into a frenzy. Boissy [23] was the key to that narrow win, hitting 16 of his 17 free throws and top-scoring with 28 points.

But for all his brilliance on the court during these playoffs, and in the Sahara Conference in Dakar in March, he still smarts when asked about not getting any US college offers when graduating from the NBA Academy in Senegal.

Boissy, a Senegal national team player, told ESPN: "They couldn't find me a scholarship in the US - I don't want to talk much about it - and then Amadou Gallo [Fall, BAL president] texted me and helped me out and he was like: 'I have a good university in Rwanda, African Leadership University. You could go there. You could play basketball at Patriots.'"

Boissy, who had grown up around basketball due to his father being a Senegalese national team player, played for Patriots in that pre-season before signing for United Generation Basketball (UGB). After a stint back in Senegal with hometown team CIBAC, he had a spell in Spain's third division with CB Cornella in the 2021/22 season.

But this year was his biggest chance to impress with Douanes, and he took it. Although he has had his heart broken once already while hoping for a chance to play in the US, a Summer League spot is very much a realistic dream this time around.

Egyptian center Anas Mahmoud joined the Toronto Raptors for the 2021 Summer League after his role in Zamalek's title win, and Central African Republic small forward Evans Ganapamo joined the Milwaukee Bucks last year after impressing for the Cape Town Tigers.

Given his age, Boissy is likely to be seen as a long-term investment, which only serves to increase his chances, although according to him, he has not received any offers yet.

He said: "I didn't have any contact [with a Summer League team so far], but from the first game of the BAL, my best friend Ibou Dianko Badji - he played in Portland [having been on the Trail Blazers' roster for the past season] - he texted me, said that the best players may go to the Summer League.

"I told him that this year, I'm going to get close to the NBA - the G League or Summer League or something."

READ: Everything you need to know about BAL 2023

Boissy has had two different generations of Senegalese players to look up to. He has played alongside San Antonio Spurs center Gorgui Dieng in the national team and also has success stories from his generation to follow in Badji and G-League Ignite's Babacar Sané.

"I played with Gorgui Dieng in two tournaments in the national team... I learned a lot [from] him. The main thing I learned [from] Gorgui Dieng is that you have to have a role in the team," Boissy said.

"He was in the bus and he was telling me and Babacar Sané: 'Some people in the NBA are getting paid to score, other people are getting paid to play defense and get rebounds, other people just stay on the bench and clap to get paid, so you've got to know, wherever you are, what the team needs you and what your role [is] - you go with that."

Fittingly, having started the BAL in front of his home fans in Dakar, he will finish it in front of the fans in the country which became his second home at the Bank of Kigali Arena, as Douanes face Egypt's Al Ahly in the final.

He said: "I wish that the quarterfinals and semifinals were in Senegal... but Rwanda is a country where I feel at home. Rwandan people love me.

"Some games, you can watch and you can hear that there are a lot of [people in the] crowd cheering me like in Senegal. When I'm playing here, it feels like a home game."

Having already guarded another of his idols, Petro star Carlos Morais, Boissy will have to be on guard against former University of Oregon player Ehab Amin, who has been another of the standout players at the BAL, and a persistent threat on the fast break.

Boissy is also particularly wary of Ahly's big men, with Omar Oraby and Nuni Omot having been a nightmare for opponents all season: "I think what we need to be focused on is to box out the bigs.

"They have a great team actually, because the point guards can move; they've got great experience. Omot is having a great tournament right now, so there's a lot to figure out right now, but we're going to stick to our game."

Saturday's final will tip off at 6pm local time, and although Boissy is a realistic contender for the MVP award, what he wants most, apart from a Summer League spot, is to take the championship back home to Senegal.

"MVP, it happens... but right now, I want to win the championship, because it means a lot to me, but the MVP - I'm just going to play," he said. "If I play at MVP level, I'll take the MVP."

The BAL airs on ESPN's channels in Africa.