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Shooting hoops at Senegal’s Seeds Academy

In Senegal, a basketball academy has been fighting for 10 years to provide an education for youngsters passionate about the sport.
Hard work, discipline — and the orange ball — are at the heart of the Seeds Academy, set up by the vice-president of the National Basketball Association (NBA), Amadou Gallo Fall, who is in charge of developing the sport in Africa.
The Sports for Education and Economic Development in Senegal Academy — to give it its full name — is based at the National Center of Physical and Sporting Education (CNEPS) in Thies, 70 kilometers (43 miles) east of the capital Dakar.
Here, timekeeping is a serious business, said the center’s manager Assane Badji while waiting for the bus that takes the students back to school for lunch.
“When they see me as they get off the bus, they know that they shouldn’t hang about,” he added standing outside the entrance to CNEPS.
“It’s important. They should all know that they don’t have the time to play around and discipline starts by respecting the timetable.”
Respect and discipline are two values advocated by the academy’s founder Amadou Gallo Fall, a 49-year-old Senegalese who himself benefitted from a push in the right direction at the end of the 1980s.
At the time, he was a student basketball player in Tunisia and was noticed by an American, allowing him to go and study to the United States.
His career as a player was cut short at university by a wrist injury but he managed to find a job at the heart of the US basketball league, the NBA.
He worked as a recruiter for the Dallas Mavericks then was put in charge of promoting the game in Africa. Since 2010, he has been the head of development in Africa for the NBA and wanted to give young Senegalese the chance that he had.
In 2002, Amadou Gall Fall threw himself into the creation of the Seeds Academy, aiming to find young Senegalese from across the country to offer them the chance to be part of a structure that would take care of all their school and sports needs.
“In return, they had to be high achievers at school to stand a chance of going to a US college or university. That’s the deal,” said Fall’s brother, Cheikh Fall.
Seeds Academy has about 30 students from aged 14-15 to 18 and its program is tough.
The students get up at 5:00 a.m. and train until 7:00 am. Breakfast and lessons follow at the Saint Gabriel Roman Catholic center — one of the most academic in Thies — with lights out late after more training and homework.
“We don’t have a minute’s respite,” confirmed Youssoupha Birama Fall, a 2.21 meters (7ft 2.5in) 17-year-old who is a recent African under-18 champion with Senegal.
“We have lessons and training until 11:00 pm. We don’t have time to play or think about anything other than studying and basketball.”
The academy does not receive local or national funding but is instead financed by Amadou Gallo Fall through US donations.
“We need $ 170,000 (nearly 135,000 euros) for a full year,” added Chiekh Fall. “We have five full-time staff, including coaches, and we pay for everything: private education, meals, accommodation, everything.”
In 10 years, the Seeds Academy has sent about 40 young basketball players to study in the United States.
Even though only one has managed to make the NBA — former New York Knicks center Mouhamed Saer Sene — the others are currently students or graduates.
That is a payback for Assane Badji, the academy’s manager.
“It’s a great source of pride for me,” he beams. “We make them work hard here. They often come from very poor backgrounds and when we see what they become, we’re very happy.”