7-foot-5 Maltese basketball player hopes Canadian experience pays off

Chris Zelkovich
Eh Game
Samuel Deguara, 7-foot-5, towers over teammate Sammy Zeglinski, all 6-1 of him.
Samuel Deguara, 7-foot-5, towers over teammate Sammy Zeglinski, all 6-1 of him.

For the vast majority of players in the National Basketball League of Canada, getting a shot in the NBA is either a long-abandoned dream or one that will never materialize.

But the vast majority of players in Canada's only pro basketball league don't stand 7-foot-5 and weigh 310 pounds.

That's why Niagara River Lions coach and general manager Ken Murray says Samuel Deguara has the potential to get a chance at cracking the NBA.

``He most definitely has a shot," Murray says of the Maltese giant. ``If I'm an NBA general manager, there's no harm in bringing on a guy like that to training camp and seeing how he competes. He's only 24, so he's young enough to improve."

Deguara, who has been playing in the top leagues of Europe since he was 16, is a sight to behold. He makes 6-foot-10 teammates look like kids, can dunk without his size-22 feet leaving the floor and makes a basketball all but disappear into his massive hands.

``He is the largest human being I have ever seen," says Murray, a longtime coach at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont. ``I'm 6-7 and he makes me feel tiny."

If Deguara were to make the NBA, he would join Toronto native Sim Bhullar as the sixth tallest man to ever do so.

But size isn't all that matters, even in basketball. That's why Deguara is spending most of his time with the River Lions sitting on the bench and why he's in a league that pays its players between $2,000 and $5,000 a month instead of collecting a paycheque with a lot more zeroes on it.

Deguara, who was taken in the sixth round of the 2015 NBA Development League draft by the Erie Bayhawks, couldn't find playing time with the Orlando Magic affiliate. Too slow, they said, so he ended up in Canada.

He hasn't been able to find much more playing team here, getting on the court for only four minutes this season -- though he did manage three rebounds in a three-minute stint in Niagara's 92-91 win over the Windsor Express on Tuesday.

``I am working hard to get better," he says. ``When the time comes for me to play I will get to show what I'm able to do."

What he can do is plenty, says Murray. He has a soft shot, good up-and-down speed for such a big man and can dominate on the boards. Unlike most big men, he has good accuracy from the free-throw line (no hack-Sam here.) His strength makes him difficult to defend and he can be an offensive force.

But there's that matter of mobility and lateral quickness that has Murray preaching patience. Until he can improve in those areas, he's a defensive liability.

``He's a little frustrated that he hasn't been playing," says Murray, adding that he needs to get the right matchup to give Deguara more game time. ``If he plays against the wrong player, it could accentuate his slowness even more.

``But he's working hard on it. Every day he asks me what he needs to do to get playing time.

``He sure wants it. He works extremely hard."

That's why he's here instead of playing in Europe, Deguara says. 

``I'm here because I think I can make a future for myself and this is the best place for me right now," he says. ``I am trying to get faster and jump higher and get leaner. For me, it's all about athleticism and every day working hard."

As for the NBA, he says it's more than a dream.

``It's all about work, consistency and being in the right situation, the chemistry and having the right coaches who will work with you. I get up a 7 every day and work out with a personal trainer, then practice, then play. I love this game and I want to make a future out of it."

Murray says the Maltese mammoth has a bright future.

``I tell him, `You're playing for peanuts now, but you can be playing for millions,' " he says. ``It all depends on what we can do for him over the next few months. I told him, `When you're done here I want to be your agent. Don't forget about me.'"

 

 

 

 

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