By John Byczek
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
University of Texas men's basketball senior Alexis Wangmene has stared down challenges in his life that might seem exotic and insurmountable to others. From hunting lions as a boy in his native Cameroon, to moving to a new and unfamiliar culture as a young man, it may be easier to ask, "What hasn't Alexis Wangmene done?"
Wangmene is the type of person to accept any challenge and succeed. So when his collegiate basketball career concludes, he is already preparing to enter a new career -- filmmaking.
"I've always been interested in art, and I realize movies are a type of art in which I can express myself in any fashion I want," Alexis explained. "I have a bunch of stories to tell, and I have a pretty wild imagination. I like to tell stories and make people happy."
Alexis grew up in Cameroon and started playing basketball at the age of 12. During a NBA's "Basketball Without Borders" camp in South Africa in 2004, San Antonio Spurs general manager R.C. Buford discovered Wangmene and the two bonded. Soon after, Wangmene moved to the United States, and R.C. and Beth Buford became Wangmene's legal guardians.
During his senior year of high school, Wangmene attended Blair Academy in New Jersey. He became great friends with R.C.'s sister, Anne Buford, who lived in New York and had begun her filmmaking career in 2005.
"When Lex was at Blair Academy, he would come over and we would hang out and watch movies," Anne said. "Lex inspired my first documentary Elevate. He came to America not speaking any English, and he was only 16. I became fascinated at what his experience must have been like, what his life was like and what he was thinking."
Elevate follows four basketball players attending SEEDS (Sports for Education and Economic Development) Academy in Thies, Senegal and their educational transition to America. Although Wangmene was not personally included in the film, Anne Buford credit's him as the heart of the documentary since it portrays his story and experiences.
Wangmene helped Anne Buford understand the Senegalese players and what they were going through. In return, he received inspiration from her to pursue his interest in filmmaking.
"Anne is one of my motivators right now and she keeps me going on this path," Wangmene said. "She's been very supportive and she's a great mentor."
Wangmene describes himself as "the kind of guy that just likes to watch movies," but Anne Buford sees something more.
"Lex has the ability to look into people's souls," Buford explained. "To be able to sit down and relate to someone is a gift that he has. He wants to understand people and I think that's what a filmmaker does."
Wangmene graduated in December with a bachelor's degree in French, and will begin taking classes in UT's radio-television-film department this spring that will better prepare him for his new career. Wagnmene has already began to think about the focus of his next project.
"My projects will depend on what I want to say and what I want to present to the audience," Wangmene said. "As of right now, my next topic will probably be race and love. I feel like for me to express myself, that would be the perfect topic to start with."
Wangmene's desire to pursue a career in the film industry has made it easy for Dr. Randa Ryan, his academic advisor, to set him on the right track. Ryan has seen him grow as a person and a student at Texas, and she is simply amazed.
"Through his years at Texas, Lex has dug deep to make it through challenges that most people simply could not handle," Ryan said. "Yet, through those difficulties, Lex has developed a resiliency about him that is remarkable. He has an amazing spirit about him, a sparkle in his eye and a tremendous heart."
Ryan went on to describe the love and care that dwells in Wangmene's heart for his homeland.
"He has a great passion for doing something for the children and people of Cameroon," Ryan said. "He has talked about libraries and education, exploring many things that might make a difference for his country. In learning about the power of media and film, Lex feels like he has found a vehicle to tell stories and help people, especially those back home."