Senegal: A New Wave of Basketball Players Has Big Plans for the NBA

Gorgui DiengFormer Senegalese basketball player Makhtar Ndiaye is a sport agent and mentor to Louisville college basketball star Gorgui Dieng (pronounced GOR-gee Jeng), one of the 30 players picked in the first round of the 2013 National Basketball Association (NBA) draft held in June. Originally selected by the Utah Jazz as the 21st pick in the draft, Ndiaye saw Dieng traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves where he will start his professional basketball career when the 2013-2014 NBA season begins on October 29. Ndiaye and Dieng are following in the footsteps of African basketball legends such as Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon, Dikembe Mutombo and Manute Bol. They are also changing the face of Senegalese basketball as they lead a new wave of African talent into the NBA.

Born and raised in Senegal, Ndiaye played a season with the Vancouver Grizzlies in 1999 after finishing school at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. Dieng also was born and raised in Senegal and is the second product of the Sports for Education and Economic Development in Senegal (“SEEDS” Academy) to be drafted by an NBA team. Located in Thiès, the SEEDS Academy is a college-preparatory boarding school (grades 9-12) created in 2003 to provide Senegalese boys with a year-round, rigorous academic, athletic and leadership development curriculum. The first SEEDS alumni to make it all the way to the NBA was Mouhamed Saer Sene, who was drafted in 2006 by the Seattle SuperSonics and now plays professionally in France.

Dieng’s selection in the first round of the draft is indicative of Africa’s growing presence in the NBA and, conversely, basketball’s growing presence in Africa. In addition to Dieng, the 2013 NBA Draft saw three other players with direct ties to Africa – Victor Oladipo (Nigeria), Dennis Schroeder (The Gambia) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (Nigeria) – drafted in the first round. “It was just bigger than the kid getting drafted and just shaking the commissioner’s hand,” said Ndiaye. “It was like a symbol.”

According to Ndiaye, basketball is creeping into Africa and has been for some time. But the sport’s potential on the continent remains largely untapped with soccer still reigning supreme in the African sports landscape. “Basketball is the same everywhere you play,” said Ndiaye. “Africa’s got some of the greatest athletes, if not the greatest athletes on Earth. But some kids, they’re not exposed to the game enough.” Ndiaye is ready for that reality to change. By pairing with a fellow countryman Dieng, Ndiaye sees potential for them to have a bigger impact. “Gorgui has a vision just like I do,” said Ndiaye. “I think his vision is to take SEEDS Academy to the next level.”

As evidenced by this year’s draft, the door to the NBA is open and teams are prepared to roll out the red carpet for African players. But, according to Ndiaye, it will take a concerted effort from African players to make it happen. “At some point we have to take care of our own,” said Ndiaye, “and make sure that we handle our destiny just like everyone else. As long as we’re sitting here and just waiting for somebody else to do it, it’s not going to get done.” AllAfrica’s Bradley Parks spoke at length with Ndiaye about Gorgui Dieng, basketball’s capacity for development in Africa as well as the continent’s impact on the NBA. Read more