Center moves to USA from Africa, picks up basketball

Alyssa Huskinson

Sacramento State center Alpha N’Diaye, a 6-foot-8, 210-pound native of Bamako, Mali, Africa, moved to the United States to learn English and became a college basketball player.

N’Diaye is a 2006 graduate of Kodonso High School in Africa, where he did not play basketball.

The same year he left Africa and arrived in Atlanta, Georgia. N’Diaye said one of his friends told him he needed to play basketball because of his height. He had never played basketball before, but said he knew a little bit about the sport from watching it on TV.

In the summer of 2007, his cousin contacted N’Diaye to have him come visit him on the west coast. Ever since N’Diaye traveled to the bay area, he said he misses home, but does not want to leave. He contacts his family via Skype on a regular basis and N’Diaye said he travels back to his homeland once a year for a month to visit his family.

N’Diaye, who has a 7-foot-1 wing span, pursued his athletic career in 2007 at Fremont’s Ohlone College. As a freshman in 2006-07, he averaged 5.0 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.0 blocks per game while shooting 53.4 percent from the field. During his freshman year he played against Delta College, their head coach at the time is now Sac State head coach Brian Katz.

During his last season at Ohlone, he was named honorable mention All-State and first team All-Conference after averaging 8.4 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game while shooting 52.4 percent from the field. Among the conference leaders, he ranked second in blocks, fifth in rebounds and tied eighth in field goal percentages. During both seasons at Ohlone, the team reached the regional finals of the state tournament.

“Initially the transition was difficult for Alpha,” said Ohlone head coach John Peterson. “Socially and academically the transition was seamless, he is a smart kid, articulate and he gets along with everyone. But the transition from a basketball standpoint was the difficult part because he had never played in an organized environment. There were demands and pressures for structure that were placed on him, which might have been difficult for him at first.”

Peterson said N’Diaye was so much more athletic than the majority of people in the conference.

“He chose Sac State because we thought Brian and the staff would do the best job continuing his development and teaching him a lot of the little things he needs to improve upon,” Peterson said. “If Alpha chooses to continue to play after Sac State, he will certainly be prepared after playing for coach Katz.”

N’Diaye said that although the two schools are different, as far as basketball goes, they both have the same intensity between the two schools. N’Diaye redshirted last year, this year he will finally take the court in his debut career at Sac State.

“We hope the redshirt season paid off,” Katz said. “In his recruitment he wanted to redshirt because has only played a couple years of basketball and he wanted an extra year to play basketball, so I think it greatly benefited him.”

N’Diaye said he now knows what he needs to work on and that he learned a lot from the bench.

Katz said N’Diaye is a factor on offense and defense and he is athletic, long, can block shots and is probably the most athletic big guy in the league.

“Alpha is genuinely a great guy,” said senior guard Sultan Toles-Bey. “He is a nice guy who cares about his teammates. He plays and works hard and I wish I would have had two years to play with him.”

N’Diaye, on his fourth season as a basketball player said we need to play hard and believe in our team. He also said that the team needs to be smart, know the plays and work hard.

Coach Katz said he feels very fortunate to have a player like Alpha and that although he redshirted last year he is a key returning player for the Hornets.

“You have to be dedicated to basketball, because you cannot take a day off,” N’Diaye said. “I’m excited about the team and it feels great to be able to start after redshirting last season.”

Alyssa Huskinson can be reached at