The pioneering spirit of Perry Wallace (the first African-American to play in the SEC) is alive and well at Vanderbilt, where James Siakam ’15 of Douala, Cameroon, became the first student-athlete awarded the prestigious Perry Wallace Courage Award.
In a poignant meeting with award’s namesake, Siakam discussed his personal journey as a French-speaking African coming to the United States at age 15 with very raw basketball skills. He noted that, although he had to overcome difficult cultural adjustments, they had to be less challenging than those faced by Wallace in the late 1960s.
Siakam capped his Commodores career with an excellent senior season (averaging 9.2 points and nearly 6 rebounds per game), despite the unexpected death of his father, Tchamo, in an automobile accident. Recognizing how acutely their beloved teammate would feel the absence of his family on Senior Day, the entire squad locked arms to escort Siakam onto the court in a moving tribute.
Now 24, Siakam is currently playing for the Raptors 905 in the NBA D-League.
The Perry Wallace Courage Award was created in 2014 to honor the Vanderbilt student-athlete or organization that best represent the unique strength of character demonstrated by Mr. Wallace during his harrowing ordeal in the late 1960s as the first African-American athlete to compete in the Southeastern Conference.
2014 winner…………. Perry Wallace
2015 winner…………. James Siakam
2016 winner…………. Next Steps at Vanderbilt