Expanding Basketball in Senegal
Boris Diaw runs a camp in the West African country.
by Kyle Stack / @KyleStack
Photos by Catherine Steenkeste
Charlotte Bobcat Boris Diaw might be one of the better NBA players to come out of France but it’s his work in a different country that makes him one of the more focused players on the League’s globalization. Every summer for the past five years, Diaw has run a basketball camp in his father’s current homeland — Senegal.
It’s become an annual ritual for the eighth year pro to hold a camp in Senegal. The native Frenchman has no natural allegiance to Senegal aside from his father and other relatives currently living there yet he felt the country would serve as a fine beneficiary for basketball training. “We were doing basketball camps for kids over there,” Diaw said by phone. “We just go there with coaches and do a coach’s clinic. We let them know what we teach to the kids in Europe and the US. It’s a good time for the kids there.”
Located on the western edge of Africa along the northern Atlantic Ocean, with Mauritania on its northern border and Mali to the east, Senegal is a relatively small country in area (196,722 sq. km, about the size of South Dakota) that’s large in population. The Central Intelligence Agency’s website estimated Senegal’s July 2010 population at 13.7 million. By comparison, Mali has a slightly smaller estimated population (13.4 million) despite being more than six times as large in area.
More people in a smaller area means it’s paramount to have efficient teaching of the sport. Diaw mentioned the skill set which came slowest to many of the boys and girls who played was an understanding of playing without the ball. “It’s tough to for them to learn individual skills because they don’t get to touch the ball that much,” Diaw said.
Most of the campers are teenagers, ranging from 12 to 18 years of age. Many haven’t played basketball the way you or I might. A blacktop or concrete slab for a basketball court is a luxury. Forget about glass blackboards. That motivated Diaw that much more to host basketball camps.
“There is so much potential with all the players here,” Diaw said. “I see it every time I go there. I see some new players coming out and there’s great potential. They just don’t have the structure or the means — the ball, the gyms. But there’s lots of potential.”
Eventually, he wants to start a basketball school in Dakar, Senegal’s capital. The idea would be to have a full-fledged high school where students would receive athletic and academic training, sort of like the IMG Academy here in the States. That project would help bring out more women basketball players. As few opportunities as there have been for males, even fewer have existed for females. Diaw is looking to change that.
“When we started, I just went over there and saw some kids playing on the playground, some kids with no shoes, and I figured maybe I should do a basketball camp and see where it goes,” Diaw explained of his initial reason for starting a basketball camp in Senegal. “So I tried to get the kids playing better but also having fun. We started that camp that way. After two years, we were doing only one camp in Dakar and we wanted to reach out to more kids.”
Diaw and his coaching instructors spent 10 days in Senegal this past summer at various camps. There were some days where they traveled by bus and didn’t have time to actually play. He did have one friend to keep him company on the trip — New York Knick Ronny Turiaf. Diaw and Turiaf, along with Spurs guard Tony Parker, know each other from their high school days in France. Turiaf wanted to help Diaw with his camp in Senegal while gaining some experience for himself in helping to broaden basketball’s popularity in Africa, according to Diaw. Also brought in from Diaw’s past was his high school coach, Lucien Legrand. He went to the coach’s clinic to help train many of the instructors who will then train the kids over the ensuing years.
A lack of equipment for the sport is still a concern, although Nike has contributed in that realm. The world power in basketball gear has given basketballs, t-shirts and other gear to Diaw’s campers. Still, there is more work to be done to give basketball players there the same opportunities that kids have in other parts of the world.
“It feels good as long as we can help,” Diaw stated.
Big thanks to photographer Catherine Steenkeste, who attended the camp, contacted SLAMonline with this idea, and provided us with some amazing photos of Boris, Ronny and the campers. Please enjoy Catherine’s photos over the next few pages, and then visit her website, catherine-steenkeste.com, for more info.—Ed.