He had to be a man when he was a boy. Now, at 27, Raptors hopeful Carlos Morais likens himself to a kid in grade school.
Morais, a six-four-shooting guard was credited with being the first Angolan to appear in an NBA game when he played the final three minutes of the Raptors preseason loss to Minnesota, Wednesday.
Basketball is a major sport in Angola, one of the few African nations to support a professional league and Morais has long been on the Raptors’ radar. He was MVP of this summer’s AfroBasket championship and represented his country at the 2008 Olympics and the 2006 FIBA World Championship.
His debut should have come years earlier. As an 18-year-old, Morais spent eight months at a prepatory school near Atlanta.
“My dad played basketball. So did everyone I knew when I was young. It was my dream to play in the NBA,” he said.
“I was committed to sign with Kansas State but I had to go high school to learn English and do all the SATs and stuff,” he said.
But his duties as the oldest of seven children scuttled his NBA aspirations.
“I had to go back to my country because my Mom got sick. I had to support the family.”
Morais burned his eligibility when he went back home and signed a contract to play in Angola. He knew that by doing so he was also giving up a long-held dream of playing in the NBA.
Angola is nobody’s NBA but it was a steady paycheque. Morais made enough money for his mom to eventually recover and even retire from her job as a schoolteacher. His paycheque eased the family’s money situation but Morais struggled to find peace with his decision.
“It was too early in my life to have a man’s attitude about providing for my family,” he said. “I spent a lot of time asking if I was doing the right thing but after a couple of years I decided not to think like that,” he said. “I had to try to move on.”
Then came the invitation from the Raptors. GM Masai Ujiri, a Nigerian, has a custodial interest in African basketball.
Ujiri recognizes that without European, let alone NBA experience, Morais is in tough to gain a spot on the end of the bench.
“The question is as someone who has never played in Europe or the league, how does his game translate to the NBA?,” he said. “ That’s what we’re waiting to see.”
“He’s a big-time scorer,” said Raptors coach Dwane Casey. “He’s strong. He’s an NBA player, I think but right now he’s in a numbers crunch. I’m not saying he can’t make our team but to get an opportunity on the court is what he needs more than anything else.”
Morais is the greenest of all rookies.
“Everything is so new to me,” he said. “I have to watch the other guys, even the younger guys because they know more about the NBA than me: what time you have to be in the locker room, what time you have to be on the court, I’m learning everything. It’s like going back to school.”
Ujiri said that regardless of whether Morais makes the team, a precedent has been set. An Angolan player has walked the NBA hardwood.
“Kids from that country can aspire to the NBA,” he said. “They say ‘if Carlos can get an invite, if I work hard, if I’m talented, maybe there is somebody watching me.’”
Morais said he tries not to think about what happens if he fails to make the team but he also recognizes that he has already won his battle. He has played in the NBA. He can pursue the rest of his career, wherever that takes him, in peace.
“This has been a blessing for me, just for the fact that I’m here with all these great players in this great organization,” he said. “If this doesn’t work out, I’ll still able to teach someone else what I learned here.”
“If I’m cut, maybe the dream will be over but at the end of the day, I really won’t have lost anything.”