The double-doubles machine plays with a hashtag heart. #DoingItForYou, Pascal Siakam’s Twitter bio says, a nugget that sums the big lug up in 14 characters better than most people manage in 140.
“For him, basketball was really important,” the New Mexico State forward said of late father, Tchamo, who was killed in a car accident in their native Cameroon in October 2014. “And he really wanted one of his sons to have the opportunity (to possibly) play in the NBA or play professional basketball. That was his thing.
“So when he passed away, I felt that I just had to give everything I had just for him — and make his dream a reality as one of mine.”
Pascal even makes a point of writing ‘RIP DAD’ on his shoes before he takes the floor for New Mexico State — a tiny tribute to Tchamo, his wind at his back, carrying the dream forward.
“That’s the reason that I play, is for my family,” Siakam said. “And for him.”
The 6-foot-9 redshirt sophomore might be doing it FOR him, but he’s also doing it TO pretty much everybody under the sun. Over his first nine contests, the Aggies’ rock has only failed to reach double digits in scoring and rebounding once, on Nov. 15 against New Mexico — and the Lobos “held” Siakam to 23 points, eight boards and four blocks.
The big man heads into the weekend before Christmas as the only player in Division I to sit among the NCAA’s top 10 in both scoring average (23.4, ninth) and rebounding average (13.2, third), staking a compelling and early claim for the crown of Best Dang Player Most Folks Have Never Heard Of.
“I mean, it’s really fun just seeing that hard work pay off,” said Siakam, the media pick for WAC Preseason Player of the Year. “I think that’s a beautiful thing. Because you put in a lot of work, you put in a lot of hours — it’s always exciting, it feels good to see you put in the work and it’s paying off.”
After adding 30 pounds to a relatively slight frame a year ago, the 230-pound Siakam put on more productive muscle over this past summer, the kind of muscle that would allow him to keep the pedal to the floor. A steady rebounder as a redshirt freshman (7.7 per contest), the Aggies’ sophomore pulled down 23 boards against UTEP on December 2 and 15 more against Wyoming last weekend.
As of early Wednesday, Siakam led the nation in 2-pointers made (82) and attempted (143), a pretty salty clip for a cat who only took up the sport seriously some five or six years ago, at the age of 16, who’d always pegged soccer as his first love.
“I remember my (siblings) used to tell me all the time that I’m going to play basketball,” recalled Pascal, whose three older brothers — Christian (IUPUI), Boris (Western Kentucky) and James (Vanderbilt) — all played college hoops in the States. “But at the end of the day, I’m like, ‘No, I don’t want to do that.’ All my brothers played basketball; I wanted to do something else. I had the size … I was very tall, the size was there, but I really didn’t like basketball.”
The game won him over. Eventually. Roughly 6-7 by his mid-teens, Pascal recalled tagging along with a friend to a basketball camp in Africa in which NBA players were among the clinicians. Even at half-speed, the pros picked out the lanky, gifted Siakam from the crowd and pushed him to consider taking the sport more seriously.
“I was like, ‘If you (did this well) when you didn’t really practice,’” Siakam recalled. “’What could happen if you actually put the time in?’”
So he did. It wasn’t magic, nor did the pieces come together overnight. But once the light bulb went on, Pascal followed the basketball bridge to America, enrolling in God’s Academy, a prep school in Lewisville, Texas, just north of Dallas.
“Actually, what’s funny is that I wasn’t really highly recruited,” Siakam recalled. “I wasn’t eligible (immediately), first of all, and maybe that’s why I didn’t have a lot of schools come after me.”
Aggies coach Marvin Menzies, though, has a pipeline that runs across several continents — nine of New Mexico State’s 14 roster spots are held by foreign-born players, from destinations as diverse as France, Colombia and Mexico — and kept the raw Pascal on his radar.
“It just felt comfortable going there,” Siakam said. “It felt awesome. My teammates are great people (and) they come from other countries, so (that) made me feel like I wasn’t by myself. I was coming here with other people in the same situation I was coming from, and had kind of been through the same things that I went through.”
That support system, that net, was tested last autumn. Pascal’s older brothers were able to fly back to Africa to attend their father’s funeral. The youngest Siakam hoops import couldn’t. And didn’t.
“And honestly, it bothered me; it really bothered me,” Pascal recalled.
“But my brothers, they kind of made me understand that this was the best thing to do …everybody agreed I should stay and just focus on basketball, because that would really make (my father) happy. It’s the reason why I do what I do right now, in trying to be the best I can be.”
A dream shared. A dream lifted on angel’s wings, threatening to soar.