BAL star Carlos Morais on his time with the Raptors, and being 'like Leo Messi'

Angola international Carlos Morais has played for Petro de Luanda for much of his career, aside from stints in Portugal. Nicole Sweet/BAL/Basketball Africa League via Getty Images

Petro de Luanda shooting guard Carlos Morais has been around professional hoops for half of his 36-year life, with more success than most in African basketball, but looks back on early career decisions with a pang of regret.

The Angola international and Olympian, who is playing for Petro at the BAL in Cairo this month, has had many career highlights, most notably playing for his country at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, and signing with the Toronto Raptors in 2013. He was waived in October of that year after signing a non-guaranteed contract only five weeks earlier.

According to Morais, that might not have been his only NBA experience had he not rushed home to advance his professional career with Petro. If he had stayed in the US school system at Community Christian School in Stockbridge, Georgia, and made a name for himself up the college ranks, who knows what could have happened, he wondered.

"I was invited to go to college in the States. I went to the States; I didn't know any English. I went to high school for seven months, and after that, things didn't go the way I expected with school and education," Morais told ESPN.

"A team came for me and offered me big money and I decided to take it and play professional basketball. Maybe if I had somebody by my side [as a mentor], I would have stayed there and gave it another try.

"Maybe now, I would have been in the NBA. Who knows?"

However, his brief run with the Raptors, who signed him away from Petro, was not wasted. He learned invaluable lessons from his teammates which helped him prolong his career and stay on top of his game.

He explained: "I remember Demar DeRozan had a crazy routine. His time to work out was midnight and I'm usually sleeping at midnight.

"For me, it was a learning thing. If you want to get to their level, you have to do things that other people think are crazy, but you still have to do it if you want to reach the highest level."

This hard-grafting approach worked for Morais in the years that followed, and even now, at an age which would often be the twilight of a sporting career, he is highly regarded.

Zamalek coach Will Voigt, who knows Morais from his time coaching Angola, told ESPN: "Carlos is still one of the best players in Africa.

"I was joking with him about how he is not ageing at all, which is something that the Angolan players have somehow figured out."

Looking at Morais' youthful appearance, it's worth remembering that he's won the Afrobasket tournament with Angola four times, the first in 2005 when he was 20, and is one of the few BAL players with Olympic experience.

Those 20 days in Beijing still light up his face when he's asked about it, and although Angola finished without a win in five games in a group that contained the USA, Spain, and Greece, Morais loved it.

He said: "Walking around the village, you know that every athlete there is one of the greats.

"I remember seeing Kobe, for example, and Rafael Nadal from tennis and Lionel Messi from soccer.

"I think we were there in Beijing for 20 days, and for 20 days, I felt like Lionel Messi and I were on the same level. It was a great experience, a lifetime experience."

However, as Professor Dumbledore told Harry Potter, it does not do to dwell on the past and forget to live in the present, and Morais has much to look forward to at the Nile Conference in Cairo, where Petro are considered one of the favourites.

The Angolan champions finished third overall last year, behind Egypt's Zamalek and Tunisia's US Monastir. This time, he feels they are better-positioned to compete for the BAL title.

"We had a new coaching staff and the way he [coach José Neto] was trying to make us play was hard for us to follow at the time, but now, I think we're on the same page," Morais said.

"I think we have all the pieces. We don't have our full roster; we have a couple of guys that went down [injured] two weeks ago, but I think the young guys will step up when the time comes and we are going to be ok."

READ: Everything you need to know about the BAL

The stability within Petro's team may be their biggest advantage. While Zamalek have brought in star imports Ike Diogu, Mikh McKinney and DJ Strawberry to complement Edgar Sosa, who was already at the club when the trio arrived, Petro are relying almost exclusively on Angolan players -- many of whom were with them last year.

"Petro is a great organisation. As an Angolan guy, we all want to play and win for Petro. I believe that's one of the reasons why we came back this year. For the ones in Angola, we have this big goal, which is to try to win it all," said Morais.

"We have two new players and one of them [Yanick Moreira] is Angolan. We know each other's families and wives, so for him, it's easy to adjust.

"We have another guy from Cape Verde [Anderson Correia]. He's a nice guy, so it's easy for him to adjust. I think we're lucky that we can keep our group together and strong. We don't have outsiders, if that makes sense."

The Nile leg of the BAL features three debutant teams out of the six, but according to Morais, Petro have been preparing for all of their opponents and taking each one seriously.

He concluded: "We've got a pretty good coaching staff and they've been scouting the teams we're going to face here, as well as the teams that we might face in the next phase in Rwanda, because we believe we're going to be there too.

"They've been scouting them for a long time, so I believe we're going to be ready when the time comes."

The top four teams in the Nile Conference will advance to the playoffs and finals in Kigali, Rwanda, from May 21-28, joining the four side that already advanced out of the Sahara Conference in March.