Senegal’s Diagne – breaking boundaries in women’s basketball

Being part of the first generation of Seed girls helped me realise how my life can impact other young Senegalese girls who want to be in my place - Diagne

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Senegal’s Fatou Babou Diagne is a great advocate for competition at the highest level of women’s basketball while ensuring similar success in education.

The 24-year-old graduated in May with a Degree in Sociology, minoring in Organisation Leadership and African American Studies at Purdue University, becoming the first girl ever from the Seed [Sports for Education and Economic Development] Academy to obtain a college degree.

By the age of 14, Diagne was bullied for being very tall and nicknamed “Zik” after a professor at her school in Thies, Senegal.

Diagne recalled her early years when she told  FIBA.basketball: “My journey has been tough, hard, passionate and lovely. Coming to the United States, I did not know what I was facing at the beginning. I have learned a lot through my journey. I realised I was not tough enough to fight my shyness. I had to be healthier to compete at the highest level.”

“Therefore, I had to change my mentality to fight and work harder to achieve my goals. My goals were to come to the United States and play at the highest level but the most important one was to get an education. I learned how to be more responsible, make the right decisions and lead the way for the young girls who play basketball back home.”

“Being part of the first generation of Seed girls helped me realise how my life can impact other young Senegalese girls who want to be in my place. I was blessed to be part of a program that allows me to know myself as a leader and a role model. All those facts helped me to keep fighting to show young Senegalese girls that they can associate school and basketball.”

At 1.95m-tall, Diagne had the perfect physique for basketball and was the perfect fit for the Seed Academy which she began attending in 2013.

“Balancing basketball and school as a student-athlete was a little bit tough. Coming from the Seed Academy, we had learned to develop the skills of time management, which helped me to know how to balance school and basketball. At the Academy, we learnt how to challenge ourselves to reach the highest.”

“When I arrived in the United States, I had a schedule to adapt and learn English. I was fortunate enough to have the right advisors, tutors, teammates and coaches that also helped me along the way. Besides, what helped me is that I knew what I wanted in the first place. Education has been my number one priority, so that helps me to know what I would face and how to achieve it.”

“Since I was young, I always wanted to make a difference. I used to hear a lot of rumours that girls can’t make it like boys. I never believe that sentence because the only thing that can take a person to achieve a high level is to work hard. Therefore, when I mentioned a person, it can be a girl or a boy, so it doesn’t matter. What matters is how tough and smart someone’s mentality is and where he/she wants to go.”

Last year, Diagne was given the opportunity to represent Senegal at the Women’s AfroBasket (The premier African international basketball tournament].

“My favourite part was wearing my country’s jersey which has been a dream for me since I started playing basketball. Having the chance to learn from some of the best players helped me to grow up in a lot of ways,” she reminisced.

“One of my most significant moments was the semi-final, where the coach gave me the chance to show myself and our population’s reaction was unforgettable. Every day during that tournament was unforgotten, which means I will never forget those days.”

“Knowing that I have young people, especially girls, that look up to me as a role model to follow, I could not give up. My dream is not just about me. It is about showing teenagers that they can achieve their dreams no matter what happens. As long as you have the benediction of your parents, nothing can stop someone from reaching their goals if they work hard. When I talk about working hard, I mean doing extra and believing in yourself.”

Senegal lost in the final to Nigeria, and Diagne still felt the agony of that defeat.

“It was a severe loss knowing that all Senegalese people came out to support us that day. We were ready to bring the trophy home, which was our mission and we failed. We did our best, but that was not enough. Nigeria brought their A-game.”

“If we have more time to know each other as players hence more time to regroup as players will allow us to know our abilities and weaknesses. Therefore, it could help us to understand each other and to have better teamwork. With less than two months, we were not allowed to get to know each other enough. It will be useful to focus more on the young generation competing in U16 and U18 because they will be the next to join us. Lastly, I think national team players have to regroup more before some competitions.”

Diagne also welcomes the challenge of taking on the mantle of one of the senior players in the team.

“I was born ready! The fact that we were able to play with our role models allowed us to have the chance to know more about what it takes for our young ones to step up. It takes a village to raise a child,” she said.

Unable to make it back home to Senegal before the novel coronavirus pandemic struck, Diagne instead is living with her brother’s family in Indianapolis.

“I miss basketball, but I have been training to keep myself in shape. I know that this time helps me to be closer to my family, especially my brother’s family in the US because I did not have a chance to go back home to Senegal.”

In partnership with ANA and Sports Leo

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