Sports

Mackey set to play in France

It has been a few months of uncertainty for Bahamian professional basketball player Willis Mackey Jr. including having his season end early and having to be stuck in Spain during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the future is promising. Mackey is set to play for JSA Bordeaux Basket in the French league next season.

JSA Bordeaux plays in the NM1 (Nationale Masculine 1) league, the third tier of French professional basketball. Mackey played for the Aquisma Carbajosa in Salamanca, Spain, this past season. Aquisma Carbajosa plays in the Liga Española de Baloncesto Aficionado (EBA), which is the fourth division of basketball in that country.

The Grand Bahamian left Carbajosa as he looks at advancing his career to play in higher leagues.

“I felt as though the NM1 league would provide me with the opportunity to progress in my career. It is a well-respected league in Europe and one that could catapult me to the top of many other leagues throughout Europe, which of course is my goal,” Mackey said.

Beyond that, Mackey looked at the city, organization, lifestyle, and the offer he was getting and felt that they wanted him there to help their team.

He knows that the competition in NM1 is higher competitively than the EBA and he is looking forward to the challenge.

“I’m looking forward to a more advanced level of competition, as I always seek to improve and challenge myself as much as I can. I heard a lot of positive things about the league from some of my fellow national team members, and they told me that it is a really competitive league with many players seeking to get to that second and first division of France basketball. I feel ready for anything that is thrown in front of me, and I plan on preparing fully for that as the summer progresses,” Mackey said.

Mackey, who plays the forward position, returned home almost two weeks ago after quarantining in Spain since March when the EBA came to a sudden halt and later canceled its season because of the presence of the COVID-19 pandemic. He was looking forward to playing out the full season but let his mark regardless. He ended up playing in 18 games this season.

Mackey averaged 16.4 points and 7.6 rebounds per game to lead Carbajosa in both categories this past season. He showed off his defensive tenacity as well, averaging 1.2 blocks and 1.1 steals per game. To reward him for those efforts this past season, Mackey was named the league’s player of the year by EuroBasket. He was also named as the EBA Forward of the Year, the Import Player of the Year and was named to the All-Spanish EBA First Team.

He said it was a tough decision for him to leave Spain as it felt like his home. He spoke to the coach, captain and a few others about his move to Bordeaux.

“The organization embraced me from the very first day,” Mackey said. “It’s never easy saying goodbye to a comfortable place, but I gained lifelong relationships that I will never forget. After making the decision to leave, I spoke with my coach who wished me well and was very receptive of my decision to move on. I met with my captain and a few others to explain and they all were understanding. No matter what, I’ll always have a special place in my heart for Carbajosa.”

Mackey said some of his personal goals for next season are to improve his abilities and stats; and sustain his high level of play, and if any awards or accolades come from that, it will be a bonus for him. He is more focused on remaining consistent, bringing the energy and the high level of play every game.

Last season, Bordeaux was ranked at number six in Group A in the NM1 with a 13-13 win/loss record. Mackey wants to help the team improve that record next season.

“My team goal for next season is to help improve the record of the team, build relationships with my teammates that would then carry onto the court, provide leadership, and set the tone defensively every single night. It’s an area they lacked in last season, and it’s one the coach and I discussed before I signed. I told him my dedication on that end of the floor, and he seems to be on board to improve that part of their game,” Mackey said.

Mackey grew up playing baseball and running track. He said he never took basketball seriously despite having a basketball court close to his family home where he played with neighbors and friends. He said he always wanted to play baseball professionally, but basketball became his destiny. He said he still misses the game of baseball.

The former University of Northwestern Ohio standout made his debut for The Bahamas’ senior men’s national basketball team back in February. The Bahamas split their series 1-1 with Mexico in the FIBA (International Basketball Federation) AmeriCup 2021 Qualifiers.

This will not be Mackey’s first time in France, having visited the Eiffel Tower before. He has a vlog on YouTube and from moving to a new country and a new culture, he plans to capture more for his audience and show the sights. He considers himself a travel and food lover. His goal is to set the tone for young Bahamian basketball players, to share with them a perspective relatable to them.

The 23-year-old is currently undergoing 14 days of government mandated self-quarantine having recently returned from Europe. After he comes out of that quarantine by the end of this week, he will head home to Grand Bahama to visit family and friends, and then return to New Providence to get into training for his upcoming season with Bordeaux. Mackey has to report to Bordeaux by August 22 and get ready for the opener in October.

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Simba French

Simba joined The Nassau Guardian in 2012 as a technical producer for Guardian Radio 96.9 FM. He joined the Editorial Department as a sports reporter in 2018. Simba has covered a wide range of sports stories, including the 2018 CARIFTA in Nassau, Bahamas. Education: College of the Bahamas, BA Media Journalism

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