One in 30,000 high school seniors who play basketball will go on to play in the NBA. If we break that down even further to include the number of players who get cut prior to that, the odds get even more astronomical. This statistic makes the efforts of Stephane Lasme, a Gabon-born former NBA player who also played with the Los Angeles D-Fenders and Maine Red Claws of the NBA D-League, even more impressive.
While many grow up playing the game, basketball wasn’t very accessible in Gabon so Lasme had a late start to his introduction. As he tells RidiculousUpside.com, it wasn’t until his teens that he actually played competitively.
"Growing up I had cousins who played a lot at the playgrounds so I dabbled, but I was more into soccer like most Gabonese kids. One day after school when I was around 15 years old, a close friend introduced me to our school’s basketball coach and that really got me into it," Lasme said.
His coach immediately instilled the importance of hard work and discipline into his game, which helped him tremendously. Within two years of playing for his school team, he was named the best player in the country and he joined the national team. After he received these honors, it was clear to many that he may have a future within basketball despite being so inexperienced.
"The language and culture were the toughest. The fact that no one around me knew about Gabon made it even harder to adjust, but I managed to meet a lot of helpful people who made the transition easier for me," he explained.
At the recommendation of one of his teachers in Gabon, he chose to attend Emmanuel College in Boston. Though he wasn’t playing basketball, the time he spent there allowed him to slowly get acclimated to the culture of the United States.
In the summer after his first year at Emmanuel, Lasme was playing in a tournament and despite not yet playing in college, he stood out enough to catch the eye of many Division I coaches. He eventually wound up choosing U-Mass after being courted by Steve Lappas.
Going into his first game, Lasme, normally a confident individual, was so nervous that he entered the game without checking in at the scorer’s table. With the first game jitters out of his system, he settled in and immediately made an impact, enough so that he was named the team’s defensive player of the year and he ranked second in the conference in blocks despite only playing a hair over 13 minutes per game.
The team had improved in his sophomore season, but the athletic department decided to let go of Lappas and bring in Travis Ford (now the coach of Oklahoma State). Though Lasme had jumped up to 23 minutes per game during his sophomore year, Ford’s presence helped him jump to the next level in his development.
Now averaging nearly 30 minutes per game, Lasme saw his scoring leap to over 10 points per game while still being a feared shot blocker. At the conclusion of his junior year, he was awarded with the A-10 Defensive Player of the Year award.
"It was really a great honor because it was the first time I felt that people around the U.S. knew about me. Going into the next season, it gave me tons of confidence and made me feel like I could do anything defensively," he said.
His development continued well into his senior year, as he nearly averaged a double-double as well as posting over 5 blocks per game. This type of production garnered the attention of the NBA and soon he was working out for professional teams.
"During my senior year, Coach Ford started to mention the NBA a little bit. I went through the pre-draft process as hard as I could and just tried to impress every team as much as possible," Lasme added.
"I didn't believe until I saw it for myself on TV. I was extremely happy because I had finally reached the dreams and goals I set for myself when leaving Gabon. I wanted to tell everybody my story. It was one of the best days in my life," said Lasme.
He was able to play with the team throughout the preseason and even cracked the lineup in one of their games, but he soon learned of the harsh business-side of basketball when the Warriors waived him a couple of weeks into the season.
"When I first learned the news I was crushed. The reality of the business really hit me that day. I still remember that morning sitting across the table from Chris Mullin and hating the whole world," Lasme confessed, "I believed in my talent though, and I was confident that I would find another job quickly."
His confidence was well placed, as he soon found himself with the Los Angeles D-Fenders of the D-League. It didn’t have the glitz and glamor of the NBA, but he was happy to be able to continue his career in the United States.
It wasn’t long before he reminded people of why he was drafted in the first place, as he once again became a feared shot-blocker. He only played in 37 games, but he managed to finish in second place in total blocks and was named the Defensive Player of the Year.
"The D-League is a totally different monster, it’s like being on a constant job interview. I took it as an opportunity to work on the things that would help me get back to the NBA and it worked out well for me. Winning the Defensive Player of the Year award was another confirmation to me that defense was my thing. It also made me greedy in that I wanted to work hard and get that award everywhere I went," he said.
His production did not go unnoticed, as Pat Riley and the Miami Heat offered him a contract. He did wind up with the team the rest of the year and even started in four games, where he naturally made an impact by swatting shots away. He had done what he could, but this would end up being his last stop in the NBA.
Since his time with the Heat, Lasme has been all over the world with stops in Serbia, Israel, Russia, Galicia, Turkey and a brief stop back in the D-League. Throughout these stops, he’s managed five championships, an MVP trophy and three separate Defensive Player of the Year Awards. Now 33-years old and playing with Galatasaray in Turkey, Lasme has come a long way since he started playing in Gabon when he was 15. With his career ongoing, he has also managed to give back to his country through the Thirteen Foundation.
"I started the Thirteen Foundation in 2009 by creating a basketball school and camps, but because I noticed the impact I could have in my country, in 2012 we broadened our mission and goals. Not only do we focus on reviving basketball in Gabon, we also do charity work with orphanages, hospitals, and in the education department. We have a partnership with The Program to Fight Malaria (PNLP) in Gabon," Lasme elaborated. "Growing up, I was hospitalized many times from this decease so I use my story to grow awareness about it and help however I can with people who can’t afford to protect themselves."
He still has many goals for the remainder of his basketball career, but his ultimate focus is making the world a better place through the Thirteen Foundation. After being born 6,000 miles away from the United States and not playing competitive basketball until he was 15 years old, Stephane Lasme has been able to make an impact that extends beyond basketball and that will continue to benefit the children of Ghana well into the future.