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Carlos Morais of the Toronto Raptors takes part in practice at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario Tuesday, October 1, 2013. (Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail)
Carlos Morais of the Toronto Raptors takes part in practice at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario Tuesday, October 1, 2013. (Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail)

From Angola to Raptors camp, Morais’s big dream within reach Add to ...

Carlos Morais isn’t your typical rookie. If the 27-year-old’s dream of being a player in the NBA is fulfilled, he will rewrite history books.

Born and raised in Angola, Morais would become his country’s first representative in the top North American basketball league if he makes the Toronto Raptors roster.

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“This is like a dream coming true,” Morais said with a smile. “I’m trying to learn as much as I can. … Every minute, I’m going to keep working hard to see if I can make it to the last spot on the roster.”

Standing 6 foot 4, Morais is humble and modest, even after achieving much success this summer. Before attending the Raptors training camp this week, Morais was stealing the spotlight during the 2013 FIBA Africa Championship, leading his country to the title and being named MVP for his outstanding performance (averaging 15.9 points in seven games).

“I didn’t rest,” Morais said. “I came right after the competition to the Raptors training camp.”

Toronto opened the 2012 camp with four rookies on the roster, but this year Morais is the sole rookie – and he is adjusting to his new surroundings quite smoothly.

His passion for the game started when he was 5 and living in a war-torn country. It was 1990, and Angola was still 12 years away from a peace agreement.

“My father used to play basketball, that’s how I got the love for the game,” Morais said. “I used to go with him to his games.”

Morais quickly followed in his father’s footsteps, fully immersing himself into a sport the father and son could share together. While competing for an African championship title in 2003, Morais was noticed by an American scout.

“I was a junior at the time. … One of the guys from Kansas State [University] saw me, and he invited me to play for Kansas State, but he said I had to spend some time in high school to learn English.”

On the advice of the scout, Morais left his home country to attend Community Christian School in Georgia. But his pursuit of his big-league dreams was quickly put on hold. He returned home to Angola one year later to be with his family.

“My mom got sick, and I had to go back to support her and the rest of the family,” said Morais, the oldest of seven children. “The money situation wasn’t very good, so I had to take a job to support the family.”

Before this week, he had not returned to North America to play basketball. Instead, Morais played in the Angolan basketball league, and continued to represent his country’s national team.

On Sept. 19, the Toronto Raptors announced Morais had been signed to a non-guaranteed contract, along with forward Chris Wright and guard Julyan Stone.

While Wright and Stone both have had a taste of NBA action (Wright appeared in 24 games for the Golden State Warriors in 2011-12, and Stone appeared in a total of 26 games with the Denver Nuggets over the past two campaigns), Morais, bringing with him a résumé of professional experience, is certain he can perform on the world’s largest stage.

Morais has not only attended numerous FIBA African Championship tournaments, but he has also represented Angola at the FIBA World Championship and the 2008 Summer Olympic Games.

Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said what stands out among the three non-guaranteed players is their unwavering energy. In terms of Morais, the coach is impressed with his size, strength and natural ability to collect points.

“I’m really impressed with his ability to score,” he said. “He’s very aggressive offensively. What we’re trying to do now is transfer that to the defensive faculty because he has a great NBA body.”

Morais is the all-time leading scorer at the FIBA African men’s championships, with 459 points over a 37-game span.

Basketball is a favourite sport among many people in Angola and, Morais said, nothing compares to the hope of one day being a member of the NBA.

“It’s every player’s dream to play in the NBA,” he said, recalling that he grew up watching many NBA games because he had access to American television channels. “There are a lot of players that want to be here right now.”

Until the final cut is made, Morais will be showcasing his qualities, hoping to be one step closer to his NBA dreams. But for now, he is taking it one day at a time.

“I’m enjoying every day,” Morais said. “I want to learn as much as I can and see where I’ll go.”

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