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Masai Ujiri during the Basketball Without Borders Africa training camp in Johannesburg, South Africa

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Masai Ujiri recalls playing soccer growing up in Nigeria, using two stones as goalposts at the back of his house, in gardens and on the side of roads.

Basketball isn't that easy.

Now general manager of the Toronto Raptors, Ujiri is on the leading edge of the NBA's endeavour into Africa, which makes a momentous step Saturday with an exhibition game in South Africa. Ujiri hopes the star-studded NBA Africa Game pushes more kids to play basketball at a younger age.

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"This will continue to bring out and expose more young players, give them more opportunity," Ujiri said on a conference call Thursday from South Africa. "What's going to come about this will be I think development of more clinics, more camps. The game is played, more competition, more youth competition, and then you start going into facilities, infrastructure here, building courts. To me, it continues to grow."

Homegrown talent already in the NBA will be showcased in the game. The Raptors' Bismack Biyombo, Miami Heat's Luol Deng and Oklahoma City Thunder's Serge Ibaka will play for Team Africa.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Clippers' Chris Paul, Chicago Bulls' Pau Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies' Marc Gasol and Washington Wizards' Bradley Beal are among those on Team World.

Biyombo knows it's special for fans to be able to see stars up-close after watching NBA games infrequently in Democratic Republic of the Congo when someone had taped them. He hopes that his journey to the pros and this game serves as motivation for kids there to play at a younger age.

The NBA Africa Game is evidence enough that good players come from the continent, and an African-born player has been selected in the top 10 in each of the past two drafts. The issue, Biyombo said, is that too many kids aren't exposed to basketball until they're teenagers.

Injured Philadelphia 76ers centre Joel Embiid is one of those players. He played volleyball growing up, started basketball at 15, played at Kansas and went third in the 2014 draft.

"It's like we all have the problem: We started playing basketball late, and obviously we're trying to change that by building basketball courts," Biyombo said. "The potential is here and now we're all trying to make sure that kids can start basketball at an earlier age and obviously give them the edge."

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Ujiri considers infrastructure the key. Heavily involved with growing basketball in Africa, he can contrast his own experience growing up playing soccer with kids today and understands it's not as simple as picking up a ball and playing.

"You need the floor, be it outdoor, indoor, and you need the goals and the basket and rims," Ujiri said. "It's not something easy to get, so kids start playing at a late age. We're trying to get them to play younger, more basketball in schools, more youth programs, and I think that will enhance the growth of the game and some of the youth that play the game."

The effort is there. Ujiri has gone to Nigeria, Ghana, Rwanda and helped build a court in Kenya, while Biyombo has started running camps so kids can talk to and learn from an NBA player.

Games can only speed up the process, and commissioner Adam Silver told The Associated Press this week in Johannesburg that he'd like to schedule a regular-season game in Africa at some point. Silver said to "stay tuned" for that because the NBA Africa Game is an experiment to see how it might work.

Ujiri has spoken with Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment chairman Larry Tanenbaum about the Raptors being involved in that if it happens.

"We've definitely had discussions," he said. "Obviously it's something that I would have a huge interest in and would love the Raptors to be a part of. It'll be historical. If we're bidding, I'll be in the forefront."

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