Sarah Chan is the first African woman to be the lead scout for an NBA franchise in Africa. The inspirational South-Sudanese women rights activist is currently the African Scouting Manager for the current (2019) NBA champions Toronto Raptors.
Tell us a little about you, your background and what led to your path to becoming the Lead Scout for Raptors in Africa?
I Grew up in war-stricken Sudan at the time, by the age of 12, I fled the country through an Academic Sponsorship for my parents, which didn’t cover my 2 other teenage brothers, but my parents would not give up on them, because that would mean that they would be forced into joining the army and sent into the active war zone.
I have parents, that instilled morals and strong family values. They taught us to pay attention to details, they focused on our work ethic, how we treated one another and others. They taught us equality, how to overcome adversity, execute with excellence, love unconditionally, stay positive, resilient, they taught us humility, perseverance doing the right thing despite how you feel supervised or not at a very young age.
In Kenya, they showed us by example what working hard entailed. They went to school, kept their grades up, after classes, they embarked on their on-campus jobs — they would cut grass and would break the rocks into smaller stones for building material.
Like most kids in Africa, when I began playing the sport of basketball, by any stretch of the imagination, I didn’t know I would be here today, but as our parents had instilled this core values, I would take it on with all the seriousness it deserved and I fell in love with the game and my passion grew.
My parents supported us with the little they had. They believed in us and have always been our number one fans. That was instrumental to my journey.
Towards the end of my Master’s program, I volunteered to a basketball camp (Giants of Africa) seeking to learn and also teach the Campers. As passion would supersede me, I got hired by Masai Ujiri — President of the Toronto Raptors (current world Champions) for the Camps.
The Raptors have a network of Scouts around Africa that are doing incredible, remarkable work in developing the game in the region. I attribute my success to my parents who paved the way, to legends like Manut Bol, my brothers who didn’t treat me like a girl, but as an equal, my Coaches who emphasized attention to details, my Raptors brothers and phenomenal African scouts Abel Nson (Cameroon), Michael Okuboh (Nigeria) and Mactar Ndiaye (Senegal) who tireless and selflessly work around the clock to make sure that Africa’s vibrant youth are prepared and empowered through the sport of basketball.
How does it feel like being the First African woman to be a lead scout for an NBA franchise? Does it add any pressure to your day-to-day?
It’s a platform to empower others. Breaking the ceiling for the next African girls to dream. We should have more women in that position because we all possess unique gifts and are capable when passion meets opportunity. We are all leaders in our own domains. It’s my hope that many more take this path and where the beautiful continent of Africa is heading, no doubt it shall be so.
It adds more responsibilities, which I was yearning for and blessed to undertake. I’m passionate about scouting and it’s a dream come true that I get to do more.
At what point did you decide this was the career path you wanted to pursue? What was your initial motivation?
The path I took led to it. I am passionate about sports and I have played basketball at the highest level in Afro Women Club Championship, in 2015, I was named top-scorer and top-rebounder of the tournament and selected to the All-Star team. Basketball paid for my undergraduate tuition in the United States. I played in Europe and most of Africa till 2017.
Sport has the power to inspire, unite people from diverse backgrounds and create hope. Sports can unlock human potentials and transform communities and our continent Africa possessed an infinite abundance of talents that must be tapped into. Once I fell in love with basketball I didn’t know where the path would lead to till a few years ago, though everything along the way prepared me.
Leaders like Theodosia Salome Okoh, Nelson Mandela, Thomas Sankara, Ramatu Ujiri, Margaret Kenyatta, Paul Kagame, Masai Ujiri, my mother amongst others, are my inspiration.
My mother and both first ladies, Ramatu, Margaret embody wisdom and grace and are creating legacies, through their unique and formidable leadership and we must follow in their footsteps.
Mandela stated, “There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” And it is as simple as that.
What are the three absolute skills necessary to be a scout and why?
A scout must possess proper player evaluations — I personally look for Intelligence (basketball IQ), Character and Talent.
The players we consider for recruitment have a well-rounded skill set. The tangible traits and intangible qualities give a player more visibility — Are they coachable, the work ethic, quickness, strength, would they fit in the larger picture of the team you’re recruiting for?
Time Management: Scouting involves extensive traveling to games.
Preparation for scouting before the actual visit.
The N.B.A is pushing into Africa. Can it compete with Football?
Competition is not necessarily the goal — both sports are impactful and unites people. When Eluid Kipchoge attempted to become the first human in history to run 26.2 miles in under two hours and finished the race in 1hour, 59 Minutes, and 40 seconds. The world cheered and celebrated his accomplishments.
Both Football & Basketball propel the youth into leadership position and self-sustenance and hand in hand are tools that empower the younger demographic, thus together they uplift and inspire.
I perceive it as being part of the larger picture of a win-win for Africa, like Athletics, Rugby and so forth.
What does it mean for you to have a commitment to sport in Africa?
It means the world to me. It’s my purpose in this world. Sports have always been a part of my life in one way or the other. I see how sports change the trajectory of an individual’s life, their family’s life, the community, the country, continents and how it has left imprints on the universe at large. It’s a responsibility I delight in. It’s an opportunity for the next generation of African Youth to be better placed.
How do we get more women to participate in sports in Africa?
Support them fully etc, — attend to their gender-specific needs, equipment and facilities, start practices and end them in time for them to get home safely. Join in the fight to break cultural barriers and harmful practices that are an impediment to their progress in lives (such as early age marriages, FGM, Beading & so forth), as sportswomen. Let the girls equally participate and coach them with respect as athletes, not as girls or boys.
What would be your advice to young women who are looking to get into the sports industry as well?
What are you waiting for? Let’s do this!! I believe the young generation has fresh new ideas they can continually change the game. Just like any other industry. It requires your time, passion, drive, dedication, work ethic and your very best. You are capable. Be ready to work and it’s possible. You can do better than me. I want you to do better than me.
Young women, the journey of life has a deep meaning and we all have specific callings — We all have a unique gift, a purpose to pursue and a legacy to leave. We all by design are chosen to be here. We ought to adjust our ATTITUDE, MINDSET & VISION and if sports are for you, go for it.
Slowly things are changing for women in Sports in Africa, thank you for the role you are playing. How can women improve their awareness, and convince others to stay open-minded in the business of sports?
I am a believer in leading by example. Let your passion trigger the wheel to keep moving. Let your leadership inspire others to dream and want to be a part of the movement.
What’s your proudest career moment thus far?
Watching the young girls and boys scouted through the Giants of Africa, finding their place in life, adjusting and thriving in their new environment. That’s gratifying and there isn’t a better feeling in the world than that.
What do you see as the greatest leadership strength?
Humility, confidence, and open-mindedness to continually seek knowledge, learn, teach and inspire others to do the same.