Louisville's Gorgui Dieng was off to a bit of a slow start to the 2012/13 season before a late-November left wrist injury, a fractured scaphoid bone, sidelined him for what's expected to be four to six weeks. Despite the setback, the Louisville junior still projects as a likely draft pick next June, assuming he declares his intent. Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress.com ranks the 6'11" center as the 27th-best prospect in the 2013 class, while ESPN.com's Chad Ford has him 39th in his top 100.
It's worth following Dieng's progress to see if he comes back strong from his wrist injury, can help lead the Cardinals to a deep run in this year's NCAA tournament, and can eventually become a contibutor on an NBA team, but the 22-year-old's past is just as interesting as his future. Dieng is one of 25 current college players that was part of the SEEDS Academy, a program founded by former Dallas Mavericks executive and current vice president of NBA development in Africa, Amadou Gallo Fall.
Based in Senegal, the SEEDS Academy was the first basketball education organization of its kind in Africa. A 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, SEEDS (Sports For Education and Economic Development in Africa) relies on charitable donations to support student-athletes in Africa. Executive Director Noah Levine, who is responsible for helping to raise global awareness and funds for the program, explains that SEEDS gives Senegalese teenagers the opportunity to receive an education both in the classroom and on the basketball court.
"When we have openings at the academy, hundreds of kids will show up for a tryout, and then there's an interview process," Levine told Hoops Rumors. "We really look for kids that want to show a commitment to academics and basketball. We're not a basketball academy. We use basketball as a hook to engage these kids in education."
Dieng represents arguably the most exciting NBA prospect to come out of SEEDS, but the process was similar for him as it was for many others that were part of the program in Senegal. After being at SEEDS in 2008, Dieng was placed at an American high school (Huntington Prep), where he continued his education and received the opportunity to play in front of college recruiters, including those from Louisville. While Levine stresses that the "number one goal" for SEEDS is to maximize students' educational opportunities, he notes that the highest level of amateur collegiate basketball is played in America, so coming stateside benefited Dieng's on-court prospects as well, allowing recruiters and scouts more opportunities to watch him play against stronger competition.
Anne Buford, whose brother R.C. Buford is the general manager of the San Antonio Spurs, followed a number of SEEDS Academy students that transitioned to American schools, documenting their respective journeys in the film Elevate. She agrees that giving kids an opportunity to receive a good education is SEEDS' top priority, noting that basketball is one way of bringing together people of all different backgrounds who may have little else in common.
"The whole point of this really is not to get a bunch of guys in the NBA," Buford told Hoops Rumors. "The whole point of it is to get a bunch of guys a really good education. Then they can take what they learned and take it back and work with the guys that were at SEEDS with them, that maybe didn't have the opportunity to go play internationally….. They know guys from Nigeria, they know guys from Angola, they know guys from Mali. It's a network I think they're really trying to create."
In America, children often grow up having started playing basketball before they reach grade school, but in Senegal and other African countries, where soccer is typically the sport of choice, kids often don't begin playing basketball until they're 14 or 15 years old. That's something that Levine, Buford, and SEEDS are hoping changes in the future.
"While our vision and mission haven't changed since 2003, the way we go about achieving it certainly has," Levine said, adding that SEEDS is developing middle-school programs to reach out to kids in their earlier years. "Being able to work with these kids at such a young age, and show them that through sports you can really change your life and stay in school, is what we're really preaching."
Levine and SEEDS are looking to increase development and awareness in Africa, pursuing potential partnerships with NBA and WNBA players, as well as bringing the program to other African nations. As Buford points out though, basketball's continued growth in the continent relies in no small part on the success stories of African players, including SEEDS alumni. "If they weren't doing well in the States, it really wouldn't matter," Buford told Hoops Rumors.
Louisville's Dieng may be the next young Senegalese player to make an impact on the NCAA or NBA stage, and if that's the case, he appears well-positioned to be an ambassador for the SEEDS Academy.
"When [Dieng] talks about basketball and life, he's really committed to school, and he really understands the mission of SEEDS, which is to create real global citizens," Levine told Hoops Rumors. "It's rare to find student-athletes today that have that kind of perspective like he does, which I don't want to say helps him on the basketball court, but he's very aware of his role as an African player in the U.S. and being a role model for the kids back at home."
"He's not the kid who has any problems getting along with anyone or thinks that he's better than anyone," Buford adds. "He's the kid that they all gravitate towards. Nobody's jealous of Gorgui's success. Gorgui's success is everyone else's success.... Everything that you want in a player, Gorgui is that person."
As the SEEDS Academy approaches its tenth anniversary and awareness of basketball in Africa continues to grow, Levine expresses optimism that continued support of SEEDS will ensure that Dieng is just one of many in a line of "global citizens" to come out of the program and help the development of basketball in Africa.
"We're really looking forward to the next 10 years to take the next step and take it to the next level, so we can have more kids like Gorgui and [Syracuse's] Baye Keita and all the kids that we have in college right now," Levine said. "I really feel like we're in position to change the future of where student-athletes come from. As we get more funding and help more kids, I think we can really impact the future of basketball."