Milwaukee Bucks win the race to sign Nigeria's Devine Eke for NBA Summer League

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After standing out at the 2024 Basketball Africa League (BAL) season with Nigeria's Rivers Hoopers, forward Devine Eke has joined the Milwaukee Bucks for NBA Summer League.

Eke, who is Chiney and Nneka Ogwumike's cousin, averaged a double-double at 16.6 points and 11.3 rebounds per game in a Rivers Hoopers team which stunned the African basketball community when they finished third - an incredible return for the first Nigerian team to ever make it to the knockout rounds.

"I heard great things about the Bucks and the people at the organization. [My goal for Summer League] is just trying to contribute to my team winning," Eke, who was in the All-BAL Second Team, told ESPN about choosing the Bucks, even when he had interest from other teams.

One of them was the Dallas Mavericks - an opportunity which he believes he earned through his relationship with Ian Mahinmi - a former 2011 NBA champion with the Mavs. Mahinmi is an NBA Africa investor and Eke said he was impressed enough by his performances to advise his former team to give him a chance.

"IThe BAL is an amazing platform and I met a lot of amazing people and Ian Mahinmi, that works in the BAL and is a former NBA player and everything, kind of is a mentor to me since the BAL," Eke explained.

No former BAL player has played a regular season NBA game yet, with Cameroon's Ulrich Chomche likely to be the first after he was drafted by the Toronto Raptors recently.

This year, Eke will be joined by Samkelo Cele in the Summer League. The South African small forward was invited by the New York Knicks off the back of his BAL heroics for the Cape Town Tigers.

While several NBA teams have kept an eye on proceedings at the BAL, the Bucks have been one of the most connected with the league, hiring scouting coordinator Ijeoma Ofomata from the BAL. This year, another Bucks scout, Dzaflo Larkai, was on the ground at the tournament.

As well as Mahinmi, Eke is equally grateful to the Ogwumike sisters, who advised him to play in the BAL to begin with. Although they are his cousins, he considers them to be his big sisters and mentors.

"Those are my sisters, man. I wouldn't even pronounce them as my cousins honestly, but technically they're my cousins. We have a really good relationship. They mentor me; they give me really good advice," Eke said.

"Those are my mother's brother's daughters. It was a good conversation. They've played at the highest level, so they know what's best. It was a good conversation with them in terms of playing in this league."

The 27-year-old, who played college basketball at the Maine Black Bears, Rider Broncs and Radford Highlanders, has played in Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands and Bosnia prior to his BAL experience, also featuring for the Nigeria national team.

Egypt's Anas Mahmoud (Toronto Raptors), the Central African Republic's Evans Ganapamo, and Mali's Aliou Diarra (both Milwaukee Bucks) have previously featured on NBA Summer League rosters.

The likes of South Sudan's Mayan Kiir, Senegal's Babacar Sané and the Central African Republic's Thierry Darlan have secured opportunities in the G League off the back of impressive BAL seasons, with varying degrees of success.

Senegal's Ibou Badji (Portland Trail Blazers) became the first NBA Academy Africa alum to feature in the NBA regular season but has not played in the BAL.

Eke's Bucks will face the Chicago Bulls on July 13 in their first NBA Summer League game in Las Vegas before facing off with the Cleveland Cavaliers, LA Clippers and Phoenix Suns over the next six days.