How far is Senegal from the NBA? Well, DeSagana Diop will make the journey in just four years. The seven-foot McDonald's All-American led Oak Hill (Va.) Academy to a 33-0 record and a No. 1 ranking this year. Here's his story, in his own words.
The first time I played basketball, I was 15 years old. Before that, I was playing soccer all the time. In Dakar, the capital of my country, you do not see many basketball courts. I thought basketball was a girls' sport.
Because I am so tall, everyone said I should try basketball. I can remember the first week. The hardest part was learning to dribble. All of the smaller players were laughing at me because when I tried to dribble, they took the ball away. This would make me very, very angry, and I would run after them and try to take it back. But I kept on playing because I loved it, and now they can't take it away no more.
There was a scout from the Dallas Mavericks, Amadou Fall, who is from Senegal. He said, 'Go to America, work hard and get in the NBA.' I thought, 'Are you crazy?' But my brother was thinking of studying in America. So I decided to go and work hard.
I came to Oak Hill Academy in the mountains of Virginia. This is very funny, to go from a big city like Dakar and live in the mountains. How did this happen to me? But it was a very good experience. The people at Oak Hill are very nice.
One of the hardest things was I didn't speak any English. Only Wolof and French. I could not understand anything at practice. One of my teammates was from Senegal -- Abdou Diame. He plays at Auburn now. He had to translate everything for me into Wolof. Practice was a lot longer last year because of the time it took to translate. But this year I could understand everything, and the practices were shorter by one half-hour. I did good in classes, but I am still not so sure about Hamlet.
When I came to America two years ago, I weighed about 250 pounds. In Senegal we eat rice and fish. But here we eat a lot of beef. Now I am about 310.
Our team was undefeated this season. I broke my left foot coming down from a rebound in February and missed the end of the season. But I worked hard, and now I'm jumping just as good as before.
When I came to America, I thought I would be going to college after Oak Hill. But I learned so much here that I think I am ready for the NBA. It is my dream to dunk on Shaq.
I don't care where I go in the draft. I am happy just to play. We will see what happens. One thing I know for sure: This is definitely not a girls' sport.
This article appears in the July 9 issue of ESPN The Magazine.
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