8B - The Michigan Daily - SportsMonday - February 21, 2005
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By Megan Kolodgy Daily Sports Writer
edshirt sophomore Amadou Ba looks the part of a Divi-
sion I basketball big man. His 6-foot-10, 250-pound frame
and wide, impish smile guarantee that his presence on the
practice floor is felt.
As the other Wolverines shoot around before a recent practice
while Ba chats jovially with basketball staffers and teammates,
dwarfing almost all of them. Finally, he jogs out to the key, grabs
a quick rebound and stops. Ba tosses the ball up in the air, braces
himself, takes an assertive hop and knocks it with his forehead.
It bounces against the glass. He heads another, and another, until
finally, he's made it all the way out to 3-point land, still missing
each shot, but by very little each time.
It seems a peculiar pre-warmup, until you remember a critical fact
about this post player: Ba never really wanted to play basketball.
Growing up in the West African nation of Mauritania, soccer
was king, and, as a youngster, Ba yearned to be good at it and
tried his hand at midfield. He spent the more peaceful days of
his childhood at the beach, honing his skills while roasting under
In those days, Ba, unlike his Michigan cohorts, never really
dreamed of starring in the NBA - he just dreamed of getting out
of Mauritania - of escaping the violence and getting an educa-
tion that would enable him to one day come back and promote the
very educational values he and his parents went out of their ways
to instill in him.
But we're getting ahead of ourselves.
Most people have noticed Ba on the sidelines at games in Crisler
Arena. Although he has played for approximately three minutes
told people in broken English that he wanted to play soccer, they
"Everyone was telling me, 'You're not going to make it in soccer. It'd
be easier to play basketball because you are pretty tall,' " Ba said. "I
wasn't really about basketball --it was all about soccer."
So Ba tried his hand at hoops, while doing his best to adapt to
It must be noted here that Ba is extremely well spoken. While
this is high praise for anyone, it is particularly significant for Ba.
English is his fifth language.
When he came to the United States, he had a considerable mas-
tery of French (the official language of Mauritania), Pullar and
Wollof (both African dialects) and Arabic. He did not, however,
know English. After English classes in his early years of high
school, he knew a few phrases, but nothing that could prepare him
for total immersion in Alabaman English.
"It was a little bit of culture shock," Ba said. "Things were very
different, and it did take long for me to adjust to everything. It was
very hard for me, especially the language - to understand what
people were saying. It took me awhile to adjust to everything, but
especially the language."
After spending his junior year playing in Huntsville, he decided
he wanted to remain in the United States, and he moved up the
eastern seaboard to Bridgton Academy in Maine.
Before his season there began, Michigan assistant coach Charles
Ramsey made his way up to Bridgton - not to watch Ba, but to scout
a teammate. But Ba played well that day, and Ramsey took interest.
After the practice, Ramsey approached Bridgton coach Whit
Lesure and made a shocking proposition.
"After the game, (Ramsey) came up to me and said 'Hey Whit, I
said. "Then Ramsey informs me that he thinks Michigan is going
to offer Amadou a scholarship. And I was like, 'Holy shit.' "
Lesure promptly sat Ba down at his dining room table and laid
out the situation. He told the Ba that if he went to Michigan, he'd
likely never be a 1,000-point scorer, and that he'd have a better
basketball career if he went to a smaller school. He also said that,
at Michigan, even though he probably wouldn't play much, he'd
get a top-notch education.
That was all Ba needed to hear. After all, education was what
he'd left his family and friends in Mauritania for.
Ba's life vas different than that of the average Mauritanian. His
parents were married, and both worked fulltime - his mother as
a middle school teacher and his father as a car trader, providing
used cars to those who cannot afford new ones.
His parents constantly emphasized the importance of education
to success - not the norm in a country in which just 31 percent of
women and 52 percent of men are able to read, and 60 percent of
children are enrolled in primary school.
Ba's schooling was spattered with periods of several weeks
during which school was closed due to fighting in the streets of
Nouakchott, his hometown and the largest city in the country.
Within the confines of his home, Ba felt safe, but, outside those
walls, conflict ravaged the country.
"When they close school, it's not safe to go out anymore," Ba
said. "There's a lot of stuff happening - people getting killed,
people getting kidnapped. It doesn't matter if you're (rioting) or
not (rioting). They don't care. They just want to create chaos."
In Mauritania, without an education, you are likely to end up a
"It's almost criminal that the NCAA
of language barriers," said Lesure, who
scope and quality of Ba's work in the coa
But true to form, Ba was persistent, a
Now that he's here, adapting to Unil
everyday process for Ba.
When he first came to Ann Arbor, few
understand him, due to his thick accent.
"Because I lived with him, it was eas
him," said captain Sherrod Harrell, whow
man year. "Every time he said somethin
would look at me to sort of translate wha
Since then, Ba has become one of 1
jokesters, and, although he doesn't play
function on the team.
"My role on this team is to bring
anytime I'm needed to step on the cou
or whatever - whatever they need mi
Bringing energy to this pack is a tall
still manages quite well, it is sometimes
upbeat when his teammates are so down
"It's tough right now," Ba said. "It's to
the other guys. But they deserve (to be upl
keep on doing it.
"This is the time when you're going to
tough. Anybody can be happy when thin
successful, when things are going the wa
you've got to face adversity that you lea
acter - more about yourself."
As a political science major, Ba remains
although he does not trust the American me
of international events,
He has his sights
x that, he would I
tania to be a ro