Coastal Carolina, Senegal, March Madness, and Amar’e Stoudemire.
It doesn’t seem plausible these words could describe a truly special story. So many of the great athletes we watch at all different levels needed some sort of guidance, assistance, or luck to turn their dream into a reality.
Eight years ago, El Hadji Ndieguene, a 16-year old from Senegal faced a daunting future as an ultra-talented basketball player without the means to get the necessary treatment on an injured left foot. An article written by Chris Broussard in ESPN The Magazine sparked an interest from Stoudemire and a friend told the Suns star at the time about the tremendous opportunity to provide a light at the end of the tunnel for the young man. Stoudemire is a member of the African country of Mali’s basketball commission and he was named Good Will Ambassador to the country of Sierra Leone. As stated on his website, The Amar’e and Alexis Stoudemire Foundation improves the lives of at-risk youth through education opportunities.
“I have an African exchange program with the Amar’e and Alexis Stoudemire Foundation, so there’s three students right now in America that are in college and getting a great education now and he happened to be one of those students we were able to help out,” Stoudemire explained on Friday morning.
After appearing on the cover of ESPN The Magazine as a 6-4, 13-year old, Broussard detailed a troubling time for the Senegal native as doctors could not solve his persistent foot injury. Ndieguene was a member of the SEED Academy, the first basketball academy in Africa and he was also a high level student, speaking four languages at the time Broussard visited the top prospect.
Ndieguene desperately needed a helping hand in reaching the United States for a surgery that could potentially lift him back to the hardwood floor.
Stoudemire quickly intervened, “With the foundation, we do all type of exchange and enhancement type programs where this kid was very vulnerable. He was in need of a specialist, with me knowing that I wanted to make sure that I got him a plane ticket to fly to the United States and take care of his health and it worked out well.”
A Houston doctor volunteered to perform surgery on Ndieguene and he eventually moved in with a family in Virginia to rehab after spending time in Texas at a prep school. He earned a high school degree there and worked his way through junior college before the 6-10 center received a chance to attend Coastal Carolina.
Ironically, Ndieguene’s second family in Virginia had a rooting interest in two teams on Friday night in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Ndieguene has lived with Rob Vozenilek’s parents for the past six years. Vozenilek is a junior for the No. 1 seeded Virginia Cavaliers.
Turner Sports’ Rachel Nichols shared the story of Ndieguene and Stoudemire during the broadcast while the No. 16 seeded Chanticleers almost shocked the country with a halftime lead over the heavily favored Cavaliers. Virginia escaped the monumental upset with an 11-point win and Ndieguene finished with five points, four rebounds, and two assists in 23 minutes of action.
Stoudemire follows Ndieguene from afar and wants to make sure he receives an education.
“Now, it’s March Madness and I’m glad I’m still his hero,” Stoudemire joked at Friday’s shootaround in Philadelphia.
Stoudemire is the victim of a myriad of injuries that have stifled his explosive career. New York’s big man is now back in the starting lineup, healthy and productive while the Knicks chase a spot in the postseason. His off-the-court assist helped to provide a path for Ndieguene, a player now realizing his dream on the floor and in the classroom. While the two players have yet to meet, they are linked now and forever.