During his childhood in Douala, Cameroon, as a compulsory student at St. Andrew's Seminary, Pascal Siakam spent his days playing soccer instead of basketball, the game his father Tchamo loved so much that he'd hoped at least one of his four sons would one day get paid to play it in the NBA.
But his father, the mayor of Makenene, a nearby town and commune, never saw the youngest of his six children suit up for the Toronto Raptors. He died from complications stemming from a car accident in 2014.
The sudden death of his father was gut-wrenching for Siakam, who at the time was a redshirt freshman at New Mexico State University swerving into adulthood alone, thousands of miles from home. But he set himself on a path to realize his late father's dream.
"I ask myself what my father would think of me making it to the NBA every day," Siakam told B/R. "I hope he's proud. I hope he's watching down and realizing that his dream became a reality. But that's a question I ask myself every day."
Early on in his basketball journey, the 6'9", 230-pound forward drew inspiration from Basketball Without Borders and then later from one of its most prominent alumni, Joel Embiid. The Philadelphia 76ers star is also a native of Cameroon and a product of Luc Mbah a Moute's basketball camp in Yaounde.
"Obviously, watching guys like Joel, and the impact that he has, it definitely inspires you to want to be at that level and want to be able to do the things that he's been able to do," Siakam said. "It's definitely an example for all African kids for sure."
The NBA announced at the beginning of this season that there were 108 international players from 42 countries and territories on opening-night rosters. That included 26 former Basketball Without Borders campers.
Players like Embiid, Serge Ibaka and Siakam are the fruit born from the NBA's labors to take the game global.
Now, Siakam is on a mission to continue spreading the league's global footprint in Africa by representing the continent on a nightly basis.
"I just want people to know that I'm on the way," Siakam said. "And I want to make sure I show every African kid out there that Africa is coming, and we're on the way and we want to be better. And make sure that Africa is known as a continent that creates great players."
While MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry get most of the credit for the Raptors (37-15) having the third-best record in the league, the surprising play of Siakam—who is averaging career highs of 15.2 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game—has made Toronto a legit Finals threat.
It's also placed him on the precipice of becoming an All-Star.
"I'm not sure how the guys are picking around the conference," Leonard said. "Usually it takes two years to be able to become an All-Star. It's about doing it again. People really don't respect it the first time around. But with where we are in the conference standings, I feel like he deserves it."
Even if he doesn't get an All-Star nod this season, the man who calls himself "Spicy P" has made the most of his extended minutes this year, up to and including his game-winner in the Raptors' 111-109 victory over the Phoenix Suns.
With the score tied at 109 and 13 seconds on the clock, head coach Nick Nurse called Siakam's number.
Danny Green inbounded the ball to Lowry at the top of the key, who dribbled left to screen the Cameroonian forward's man and gave him the ball with 9.6 seconds left.
Siakam dribbled up to his defender, Mikal Bridges, to create space and then broke left to the basket and used his 7'3" wingspan to extend his left-handed layup over a leaping Deandre Ayton as the clock expired.
It was a huge moment for Siakam that added yet another bullet point to his application for the 2019 Most Improved Player Award.
"I think it's his confidence," Nurse said of Siakam's emergence. "Just the amount of swag he brings to the court, I think it's probably the most impressive thing. I know that covers a lot of traits, but he's gone from being kind of an energy guy to a little more of a skilled guy to a consistent guy.
"And then the shooting is coming. He does a lot. He defends, he rebounds, he runs, he's handling. He's growing, and it's awesome."
The 24-year-old's increased confidence stems from the support he gets from everyone in the Toronto organization.
"They give me the confidence to go out there and play my game," Siakam said. "[President] Masai [Ujiri], the coaching staff and my teammates allow me to be myself and play the way I play. When you have that ultimate confidence from your teammates and coaches, it can only help you."
Before this season, Siakam, who ranks 23rd in ESPN's real plus-minus ratings, wasn't handling the ball or calling late-game isolation plays. They were things he added to his budding offensive game that includes being an all-around transition player with a patented, increasingly hard-to-stop spin move, which he describes as "jalapeno in a blender."
"I just put in a lot of work and a lot of hours in the gym just working on my game," Siakam said. "And I just made sure I did what I needed to do to come back better and be a better player overall."
For his spicy spin move, Siakam becomes a whirling dervish, getting into the defender's body and spinning away from the pressure with a quick drop step to the cup.
It was footwork he'd developed from playing soccer to distinguish himself from his brothers, who all played basketball.
"I've always been a hard worker," Siakam said. "In college from my freshman year to my sophomore year, I always got better, and that's just my mindset. Every time I go back and evaluate myself, I just make sure that I come back a better player and work on different things and make sure that I add something new to my game every summer."
While Siakam continues to develop his offensive skills, he's improved on his shooting. Last year, he shot 22 percent from behind the arc. This year, he's shooting 32.4 percent. Additionally, his field-goal percentage has gone from 50.8 percent to 55.9, and his free-throw shooting has jumped from 62.1 percent to 79.9.
Offensive growth is important for Siakam, but he earns his keep defensively.
He's highly switchable, and his lateral quickness, length and reach allow him to close gaps, cover ground on players who get past a teammate and pressure scoring threats on the perimeter.
He's also able to run high-scoring guards like Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard and Kemba Walker off the three-point line, holding all players to 30.8 percent shooting from deep. Behind Paul George, Siakam is one of the game's best perimeter defenders.
"I like guarding every offensive point guard," Siakam said. "It's always fun. They got so much that they can do, they're so talented, and as a competitor, it's definitely exciting and fun when you have an opportunity to guard great players."
As he continues to improve as a versatile wingman, Siakam doesn't have to keep asking himself what his father thinks of the man and NBA player he's become.
He didn't just make it to the league—he's willed himself into the conversation of young players who could capture the trade imaginations of creative league executives thirsty for young talent on the rise. It's early, but he's reminiscent of a neophyte Giannis Antetokounmpo in terms of his athleticism, length, speed bursts and ability to gallop in bounding leaps on court like a gazelle.
"Those are amazing players," Siakam said. "Kevin Durant is a Hall of Famer, Giannis is a freak. I'll never put myself in that category of trying to be like them, but to even be mentioned with those names obviously is an honor. But for me, I'm trying to be the best basketball player I can be. Making sure I'm adding things to my game to be unique and making sure I work on every level of my game."
Maurice Bobb covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow Maurice on Twitter, @ReeseReport.