Meet Oregon recruit Satou Sabally, the well-traveled mystery player at the Jordan Brand Classic
Truth is, Satou Sabally has no idea how good she is at basketball. Sure, the Oregon signee hears the compliments. Of course she's honored to be the first international player in the Jordan Brand Classic girls' game. But still, the 18-year-old German has never played in the elite U.S. summer circuit against top-ranked American competition. So she honestly has no clue.
"People say I'm that good, but I don't know," Sabally said. "I can't say, 'Yes I am,' or 'No I'm not.' I would never say I'm the best or top 10."
That's where her future Oregon coaches come in.
"If she was an American player," Ducks coach Kelly Graves said, "you'd be talking about her as a potential national player of the year."
Sabally will try to live up to that praise Friday in New York when she takes the Barclays Center court with Connecticut recruit Megan Walker, Tennessee recruit Evina Westbrook and the rest of the best that American high school basketball has to offer.
For her part, Sabally has been spending her final few months before college playing with Eisvögel USC Freiburg, a professional team that features former collegiate and national players from around the globe. Sabally maintained her amateur status and NCAA eligibility by forgoing a salary.
Living away from her Berlin home, the 6-foot-4 guard/forward earned her way into the Freiburg starting lineup, averaging 10.1 points and 4.6 rebounds last season while shooting 51.4 percent from the floor. Her numbers were even flashier at last summer's U18 European Championships: 13.4 points, 8.4 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game for Germany. She'll likely represent Germany on the U20 team this summer.
Sabally, whose range goes beyond the arc, has her future Oregon coaches gushing with pride. They've even equated her skill set to that of the 76ers' Ben Simmons.
"It's incredible when you think about how big the world is," said Oregon associate head coach Mark Campbell, who made multiple recruiting trips to Germany. "And how many players there are all over the world. That she's the first one -- that's so deserved. ... I don't see another 6-4 guard that can do the things she does."
Where she's been
Friday's showcase will bring Sabally full circle; she was born in New York City. Her family moved to Gambia when she was 2 then to Berlin when she was 7, and they'd often return to Gambia for summertime visits.
She's fluent in both English and German, thanks to her German mom, Heike, and Gambian dad, Jerreh.
Heike always had a hunch her daughter would play basketball in the Big Apple -- somehow, some way.
"My mom told me that she always knew I would play in New York one time," Sabally said. "She got so excited for me."
If she was an American player, you'd be talking about her as a potential national player of the year.Kelly Graves
Her mom wasn't alone.
"I was shocked," said Sabally, whose sister Kaddy, 24, will represent the family in the stands. "I was so happy and speechless. I didn't know what to say. All I could say was, 'Oh my gosh. I made it.' "
The third of seven children who range in age from 3 to 26, Sabally got her first taste of basketball when she was 9. That's when a local coach spotted her on the school playground in Berlin and invited her to a camp.
"I was like, 'Yeah. Why not?' " said Sabally, whose parents didn't play basketball.
The rest has been a blitz. She developed her game in local boys' leagues as the only girl on the team. Then when she was 14, she transitioned to play alongside the girls. The jump to a professional league brought even more physicality.
Three years ago during a routine tournament in Berlin, Heike realized that her daughter was no ordinary teenager when it came to wisdom.
"How she talked to the coach -- she was more mature than I am," Heike said. "The questions she was asking -- I just thought she can do it. She is ready."
Sabally has lived away from home the past two years, going grocery shopping and mastering a laundry routine in her apartment she shares with a teammate.
She visits home -- a seven-hour train ride away -- about once every two months.
Campbell said Sabally's transition to college life will be smooth considering she's already conquered what most freshmen experience for the first time.
Plus she loves to read, sometimes a book a week. Somewhere, her future college advisor is smiling.
Where she's going
Oregon, which advanced the NCAA tournament Elite Eight for the first time in program history, returns 100 percent of its postseason points and rebounds.
Next season the Ducks add Sabally and fellow international signees Aina Ayuso (Barcelona, Spain) and Anneli Maley (Melbourne, Australia).
Coaches say Sabally won't be a wide-eyed freshman. Not on the court or in the classroom. She wants to study political science, human rights or international relations.
"At 6-foot-4, to be able to go off the dribble, to post up, to shoot with range -- defensively she's a terror because her arms just don't quit," Graves said.
Sabally picked the Ducks over Oregon State, the only other school she visited. She didn't realize until back-to-back official visits that the Beavers and Ducks shared a rivalry, though.
"I saw a 'No Beavers' sign in Eugene," Sabally said. "I was like, 'Oh my God. I just came from there.' "
Kentucky, Gonzaga and Arizona State were also in the recruiting mix. Her younger sister Nyara, 17, has drawn recruiting interest of her own. Heike said she'd be pleased to see them both in Ducks uniforms.
Ultimately, Sabally's decision to move across the world came down to opportunity. She said the chance to study and play basketball in a competitive environment like the Pac-12 is unrivaled.
But the towering facilities and plentiful food didn't hurt, either.
"American colleges are a different world," Sabally said. "You would never see that here in Germany. Everything is huge."
Huge, sure. But not all new. In a way, it's familiar territory.
"I never really knew when I started basketball that it would open that many doors for me," Sabally said. "Coming back to America where I was born -- it's just amazing for me."