UConn men’s basketball star Adama Sanogo leaving for NBA Draft: ‘Excited for the next stop on my journey’

Adama Sanogo2

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Adama Sanogo, the face of the UConn men’s basketball NCAA championship run this spring, is leaving the program to pursue an NBA career.

Sanogo, a junior, will forgo his remaining college eligibility and enter the NBA Draft. The news was first reported Thursday by journalist Adam Zagoria in a tweet.

It was later confirmed by Sanogo in an Instagram post. UConn also confirmed Sanogo’s departure in a press release Thursday evening.

“Thank you UConn,” Sanogo said in his post. “Thank you to the best fans in the country that have supported me from the first day I got to Storrs. Thank you to the incredible support and guidance from Coach Hurley and the staff. They invested the time and energy to making me a better player and person.

“Most importantly thank you to my family, and support system that has always allowed me to focus on reaching my dreams and have sacrificed so much for me. I am so excited for the next stop on my journey and proud to announce that I will declare for the 2023 NBA Draft and will stay focused on the process and giving myself every chance possible to hear my name called. I will always cherish my time at UConn and will always be my home away from home.”

The 6-foot-9, 245-pound forward/center has been projected at best as a second-round prospect, although his stock may have been enhanced by his NCAA Tournament performance. Sanogo averaged 19.7 points and 9.8 rebounds, converting 50 of 75 shots in UConn’s six tournament wins.

In the Final Four, he had 38 points and 20 rebounds in wins over Miami in the national semifinals and San Diego State in the title game.

Overall this season, Sanogo averaged 17.2 points and seven rebounds in 39 games, shooting 60.6% from the field. He also hit 19 of 52 3-point attempts (36.5%) after attempting just one shot from beyond the arc over his first two college seasons.

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Sanogo’s expanded offensive game was purposeful, a signal to NBA scouts that he’s capable of transitioning to a league that values 3-point shooting.

Off the court, Sanogo emerged as a leader at UConn. He shared the captain title with Andre Jackson Jr. and became a vocal personality on a team that meshed transfers and freshmen into the rotation this season.

Sanogo’s personality also made him a fan favorite. A native of the West African nation of Mali, Sanogo’s back story is compelling — he came to the United States alone at 15, speaking little English while chasing a basketball dream. He spent two years at a school on Long Island before attending The Patrick School in New Jersey.

Eventually, he landed in Storrs.

Sanogo earned a starting role as a freshman in 2020-21, averaging 7.3 points and 4.8 rebounds. His numbers rose to 14.8 and 8.8 with a 50.4 shooting percentage and 55 blocks. He was named All-Big East and became a fan favorite.

He was a Big East Preseason Player of the Year and the national spotlight settled on him throughout the season. Sango also also speaks French, Arabic and Bambara, and his English has steadily improved over his three years UConn.

This spring, he gained attention as he and teammates Hassan Diarra and Samson Johnson fasted to observe Ramadan.

“Ramadan is something as a Muslim, it’s just something that if you feel empty, you should do it,”  Sanogo said at the Final Four. “This is something I’ve been doing since I was little. It happens to be during the tournament.”

Title in hand, Sanogo returned from Houston with his teammates as one of greats in program history. Sanogo, who has worked with and consulted with former Husky Emeka Okafor, said after championship win that he would talk to family about his next step.

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There is seemingly nothing more to prove at UConn. Sanogo is a relentless defender in the paint, a strong rebounder and efficient scorer near the basket.

An unnamed NBA scout told CT Insider in February that Sanogo projects as an undersized NBA center. The scout questioned whether Sanogo would be drafted.

Sanogo is not listed in recent mock drafts.

“Most NBA teams will look at Sanogo and say, ‘He’s a tough kid, he’s a little under-sized as a five-man, he plays hard, he’s got ability, he’s certainly a very good college player, one of the top bigs in the Big East.’ ” the scout said. “I might be surprised, maybe somebody will take a chance on him in the second round, but I see him more as a G-League/international guy.”

However his game translates to the next level, Sanogo left a lasting legacy in Connecticut.

“He’s obviously cemented himself into the pantheon the greatest big guys,” Dan Hurley had after the national championship game. “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. He’s an all-time great.”

Sanogo’s departure follows Jordan Hawkins’ announcement that he will enter he NBA Draft. Andre Jackson Jr. is also said to be contemplating the draft and has been slotted as a second-round pick in recent mock drafts.

On Thursday, guard Nahiem Alleyne entered the transfer portal.

With Sanogo gone, freshman Donovan Clingan will have an expanded role as a sophomore. Clingan, who elected to stay at UConn rather than enter the NBA Draft, averaged 6.9 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in just 13.1 minutes as Sanogo’s understudy.

The 7-foot-2 Bristol native figures to be a first-round pick when he does enter the draft.

Par Paul Doyle / ctinsider.com

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