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Adama Sanogo – First Africa-born player since Olajuwon to win the NCAA MOP award

Adama Sanogo

Temps de lecture : 3 mn 🕗

HOUSTON (USA) – Oumar Ballo and Siriman Kanoute became household names, at least in international basketball, for their heroics in the Mali shirt while playing in various youth tournaments.

The dynamic duo led Mali to the Final of the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup in Greece and made the All-Star Five.

Now another player that featured for Mali’s youth teams, Adama Sanogo, has taken center stage after leading the University of Connecticut to their fifth NCAA title.

Sanogo became the first African-born player to be named the NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player (MOP) since 1983 when Nigeria’s Hakeem Olajuwon won it.

The Huskies beat San Diego State, 76-59, in Houston. Sanogo, who averaged 19.7 points and 9.8 rebounds per game, with four double-doubles and eight blocked shots, in the tournament, signed off with 17 points, 10 rebounds, and one swat against San Diego State.

The Bamako native says his family, in Mali, was a big reason why he played so well this season, and in the tournament.

“I think my family is a major part of my success right now,” he said in the post-game press conference. “Every time I do something, I think about them. They’re the reason I go hard for this.

“I know for sure they’re watching this game. I know for sure they’re proud of me. There’s a lot of African players, Malian players in college. I’ve had a chance to be in the Final Four, and I definitely – I’ll remember it forever, and it’s something I will never forget in my life.”

Lire aussi :  {:fr}En direct : CRBT vs. USFAS, Mali Ligue 1 Orange / J4 (Hommes){:}{:en}Live: CRBT vs. USFAS in Mali Ligue 1 Orange / J4 (Men){:}

Sanogo has gone far, both literally and figuratively. As a boy, he played football (soccer) and wasn’t interested in basketball.

Yet his family encouraged him, because of his size, to try the sport and now he’s glad he did. He left Africa at the age of 15 to play high school basketball and now is celebrating.

“I never thought I would be a college basketball player … I didn’t want to come here,” he said, before Monday’s game, to the Houston Chronicle. “Now I’m here, and I’m getting to play on this big stage. And that’s something I’ll appreciate the rest of my life.”

Sanogo first went to high school at Our Savior New American in Centereach, New York, but then moved to Hillside, New Jersey, to attend The Patrick School.

Ranking high school players is an inexact science and Sanogo was listed as “only” a four-star recruit where five-star players are the most heavily sought-after. With plenty of hard work and determination, Sanogo has proved himself in the best way possible with this recent success.

“Thank God I came to the United States,” Sanogo said. “I’ve been thinking about it — what if I didn’t come to the United States?”

Before crossing the Atlantic to pursue a collegiate career stateside, Sanogo featured for Mali at two major FIBA youth tournaments.

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Adama is seen here in action against Serbia at the 2018  FIBA U17  Basketball World Cup in Argentina 

He was part of the Mali squad that won the 2017 FIBA U16 African Championship in Mauritius, in a tournament that Sanogo averaged 10.5 points, eight rebounds per game.

Lire aussi :  {:fr}En direct : CRBT vs. USFAS, Mali Ligue 1 Orange / J4 (Hommes){:}{:en}Live: CRBT vs. USFAS in Mali Ligue 1 Orange / J4 (Men){:}

Sanogo then played at the 2018 FIBA U17 Basketball World Cup in Argentina, where he appeared in four of his country’s seven games, averaging  six points and seven rebounds.

Sanogo was one of the 10 African-born prospects – including Golden State Warriors rising star Jonathan Kuminga – to participate in the 2020 Basketball Without Borders (BWB) Global Camp, a partnership between FIBA and the NBA which was held in Chicago during the All-Star 2020  weekend.

During Monday nights’ post-game presser UConn head coach Dan Hurley praised his big man.

“He’s obviously cemented himself into the pantheon of greatest, obviously, the greatest big guys with all the production and back-to-back First Team All-League, and now this, to have the national championship just puts him in a position in one of the most storied programs in college basketball,” Hurley said. “He’s an all-time great.”

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Adama Sanogo’s Mali celebrate the title of the 2017 FIBA U16 African Championship

Sanogo’s MOP award comes a year after Ochai Agbaji – who is born to Nigerian parents – won the award after leading Kansas to the title.

Other MOP winners with close ties to Africa include Emeka Okafor (2004) and Joakim Noah (2006).

What’s next for the UConn’s Mali hero?

Sanogo can stay in school and play for UConn next season if he chooses, or can turn professional. NBA teams will have taken notice of his length, athleticism and skill set. The NBA draft will be on June 22, so he has plenty of time to make up his mind.

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