Up Close with James Siakam
Oct. 17, 2012
Five years ago, James Siakam made a life-changing decision to move away from his family in Douala, Cameroon, to pursue his dream of playing basketball in the United States.
Siakam, a redshirt sophomore forward, did not speak English when he arrived in the United States, but he picked it up in just a few short months thanks to the help of his teachers, hours of practice and a strong will to succeed.
"I was like a dog in front of the T.V.," Siakam recalled of his experience learning English. "I didn't understand anything. But I just stuck with it and now I feel like I have a better feel for everything."
Siakam caught on quickly to the language and the culture, and it was evident by his work in the classroom. He even graduated a year early from Brehm (Ill.) Prep and was part of Vanderbilt's signing class in 2010.
"It was a tough decision coming out of high school to still have a year left to get better, but I just felt like coming here a year early to get better with college guys would be better than staying in high school and competing with high school kids," Siakam said.
Upon arriving on Vanderbilt's campus, Siakam had little trouble fitting in on the team. In addition to himself, there were three other international players on the roster: Festus Ezeli (Nigeria), Jeffery Taylor (Sweden) and Steve Tchiengang (Cameroon). Siakam had actually even played sports with Tchiengang's brother in Cameroon.
"It was really important having a bunch of international players when I came here," Siakam said. "I just felt like they recruited a bunch of me. I just fit right in and it was a great environment."
Siakam hasn't been back to Cameroon since he first arrived in the U.S. five years ago, which was also the last time he saw his entire family together at once. To stay in touch with everyone, Siakam relies on Facebook, emails and phone calls.
Like many in his country, Siakam grew up a soccer player with aspirations of playing professionally and representing his country in international competitions. It wasn't until his brother, Boris Siakam, decided to move to the U.S. to pursue a basketball career that James took an interest in hoops. Boris played collegiately at Western Kentucky and is currently playing professionally in the Middle East.
"Basketball came a little bit after my brother left for the United States to play basketball," Siakam said. "I thought that was a really good opportunity. If you can play basketball, you can go to the United States and I was really shocked to learn that. I decided to try and I was lucky because I was talented."
To learn more about Siakam and his story, watch this video.
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