DePína talks Dolphins ownership and African basketball ecosystem

FOR Cape Verdean/Liberian Antonio DePína, a former professional player turned entrepreneur, basketball transcends mere competition. For him, it has been a vehicle to drive societal change and personal empowerment.

Following the end of his playing days, DePína found a way to maintain a connection to the game. A Forbes 30 under 30, DePína pioneered the Praia League, the Scoutz App, and has recently spread his wings by acquiring the Dolphins Basketball Club of Botswana.

DePína studied at Lincoln University, where he played Division II basketball while pursuing a degree in Criminal Justice. He aspired to become a police officer, a career that offered stability and security.

“I didn’t think I would play professionally. I thought I should do the safe thing… Make sure that I get a good salary but that was before Covid,” said DePina.

Following graduation, the pull towards a professional basketball career opened DePína’s eyes. Stints at B.C. Martorell Solvey in Spain and Electrico FC in Portugal exposed him to the business of basketball. It also made him curious about the number of African athletes pursuing a basketball career in Europe.

“While playing in Spain and Portugal I encountered many African players. I asked my teammate Mayot Deng why he didn’t go back home to play. He told me the chances to make a living (through basketball) were few and far.”

Antonio DePina a former basketball player
Antonio DePina says a visit to Cape Verde gave him a reality check. Pictures: Supplied

Although born and raised in the United States, his parents were born in Africa. Nonetheless, the basketball situation baffled him, as he grew up in a country abounding with opportunity.

However, a first-time visit to his father’s country of birth, Cape Verde, exposed him to certain realities. There was a lack of infrastructure and organized competition. This mind-altering experience made DePína realise there was an opportunity to pursue the business of basketball in Africa.

Equipped with the experience from his playing days, and the ability to think out of the box, he started the Praia League in Cape Verde. The national federation could only provide him with a facility to run the seasonal competition. Everything else would come out of his pocket. Over time the league turned out to be sustainable and now employs 80-100 locals during the island nation’s summertime.

“All I asked for was a gym and I got that, everything else, I provided. Jerseys, lights, staff, I paid for,” says DePína. “I learnt early on that you can’t depend on anybody or wait on anybody because if you wait on let’s say the government to get started, then it will never happen.”

DePína has also spread his business acumen to the world of tech. He started an app called Scoutz (formerly Overseas Basketball Connection), which provides athletes with a platform to connect with basketball teams and access an AI-powered sports agent. It also simplifies the recruitment process for professional athletes who want to build their careers abroad.

“I think it is extremely important to have that representation. A lot of African players have never left their home country and the Scoutz app is available for them to navigate that,” says DePína. “A lot of the people we have on the Scoutz app come from the United States, but there are some African players.”

 

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DePína recognizes the value of the Scoutz app but understands that the African Sports Tech market is still young. Although a need for athlete representation exists in a growing sports economy, it may not be a priority in many countries. The reason being that more critical issues take precedence over paying for an app, unlike their American counterparts.

At 26, he was a part of the Forbes’ 2021 30 Under 30 class. The selection was a justification for pursuing his dreams, and many doors would open for DePína after this.

He expressed his happiness and gratitude: “It is always a dream to get on that list. It validates that you are not crazy. Everyone is a dreamer. While pursuing your dream, sometimes you feel like you are going crazy, and doubt can creep in,” said DePína. “Recognition like this gives you validation, and you realize that maybe you are not crazy. You are onto something.”

His business instincts recently led him to Botswana, where he acquired the successful Dolphins. The four-time Botswana Basketball League Champions narrowly missed out on the 2024 Road To BAL Elite 16 after finishing second in their group when they hosted regional qualifiers last year. With Gaborone being 6934 km (4309 miles) away from Praira, what drew DePína to the Dolphins and Botswana?

DePina credits his experience at the Forbes 30 under 30 summit as the motivation behind this move.

“I was in Botswana and spoke at their event (Forbes 30 under 30). I felt inspired by others as well,” says DePína. “Botswana is a growing country and their president is inspiring. Growing up, he had to pay for his own soccer boots. He also faced numerous obstacles, but he persevered and is now dedicated to helping the youth.”

That experience and a love for an underdog story sparked DePína’s interest in the Dolphins. He is determined to turn the Southern African club into a BAL contender. Although DePína could have acquired a team playing in Season 4 of the BAL, he is firm on the Dolphins.

Antonio De Pina is a pioneer
Antonio DePina has pioneered efforts to develop basketball in Cape Verde.

“Several teams need help, but they (Dolphins) were suitable to me. I want to create value for the team and the youth and the culture in Botswana,” says DePína. “I also wanted to prove to myself that I can do it… That I can bring a team to the BAL. They are the national champs of Botswana, and they have played in the qualifiers, but I believe they can go much further.”

In building the team, DePína plans to learn from the mistakes that he has seen other clubs make by taking a more transparent approach and implementing a proper managerial structure.

“I want to implement proper management of the team, proper management of the funds so that everything is transparent. When that is in place there will be a sense of trust within the organization,” says DePína. “I feel like sometimes things are not done properly. For example, we see many teams trying to get to the BAL. Some have crazy budgets but others struggle with their budgets.”

DePína hopes his approach can spread across the continent. He wishes that it can inform things such as league-wide player salaries and team caps so that everyone can understand how much running a team costs.

The decision to invest in the Dolphins demonstrates a commitment to basketball on the continent, and the importance of making long-term investments in teams and leagues.

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