College basketball players from Africa are like any other: They have a dream. But the boundaries to achieving it can be far steeper for them than for most.
Frequently, they don't know the language. Just as frequently, their development in the game begins far later in life than for many American players; more often than not, African players come to the states lacking the polish and understanding those who've played 10 years of constant AAU and high school hoops take for granted. They're in a new place, with a new culture, a world away from their homes and former lives. Every now and then, African players slip through the cracks.
Which is why it's very cool to see a story like Virginia forward Assane Sene's, as told this week by Eric Angevine in the Charlottesville News & Arts. Sene has not only achieved success on the court -- the 7-footer is an 8-1 Virginia team's second-leading rebounder, and he's been an efficient scorer with his limited offensive touches -- he seems to be thoroughly enjoying his time as a Cavalier. From Eric's piece:
As we made our way into the stands, our progress was slowed by a determined toddler, taking the concrete steps one at a time in front of us. Sene, gentle giant that he is, waited patiently for the little guy to find his seat, and someone finally noticed him, and said simply “Assane.” The murmur traveled quickly through the stands until the entire section was looking at him, standing there, as various voices sang out his name. “Assane! ASSANE!”
They all seemed so happy to see him. The vibe was infectious. Sene’s somewhat sleepy eyes and neutral expression dissolved into a million-megawatt smile. Soon the way was clear, and we continued our descent toward the field, Sene slapping hands and waving, with that genuine, joyous grin on his face.
Assane Sene is 4,021 miles from home, but he’s among friends.
There's much more to read here, including Sene's description of his introduction to basketball and his favorite food (burritos). He hopes to play professional basketball after his college days, whether in the States or overseas, but his long-term goal is to be a coach, one that follows in the footsteps of Basketball Without Borders and SEEDs, the organization run by Senegal native Amadou Gallo Fall that helped Sene get from his native Senegal to the Cavaliers' lineup.
Sene may never play professional basketball. But the opportunities he's received thanks to the college hoops -- an education at a world-class university, an adoption of a beloved game, a desire to help others experience his journey, in addition to all the new friends, new experiences, new culture -- has clearly made an impact on the youngster. Where else but American collegiate athletics could Sene have achieved all this?
It's a hokey notion, but I'm about to say it: This is why college basketball, or college athletics in general -- for all of its problems and pitfalls and corruption and greed -- is worth preserving. It may not be the best model for the No. 1 prospect in the country each year, the kid who dreams of one day making money for his immense abilities. But for guys like Assane Sene, college hoops is the dream.