By Chuckie Maggio, @ChuckieMaggio
The 2013-14 version of the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team has an international flavor some Division I programs cannot claim. Five of the 16 players were born outside of the United States, including three of the five starters.
Two of the five international players on the Bonnies were born in the same place: Dakar, Senegal. Junior center Youssou Ndoye and sophomore guard/forward Jean Yves Toupane both hail from the small country at the western-most point of Africa.
How did Ndoye and Toupane find their way to St. Bonaventure, N.Y. from a country 4,063 miles away?
“We had a program in Senegal called the SEEDS (Sports for Education and Economic Development) program,” Ndoye said. “Jean Yves and I both played basketball in the program, and they said we could play basketball in America.”
What followed resembled a little brother following his big brother’s footsteps. Ndoye came to America and enrolled at the Lee Academy in Maine for his junior year of high school. Toupane trailed him to the States a year later, and they played together for the 2010-11 high school season.
Ndoye then signed his letter of intent to play for Mark Schmidt and Bonaventure, playing with Andrew Nicholson on the team that won the Atlantic 10 title in his freshman year. After that season, Toupane committed to play with Ndoye for the Bonnies, and the two are now helping take Bonaventure back to the Atlantic 10 championship.
Toupane said Ndoye has been instrumental to his progress as a basketball player.
“Youssou helps me get stronger in the weight room, and he’s a great leader,” Toupane said. “He really is a mentor, and I wouldn’t be the player I was today without him.”
Ndoye made sure to point out the distinct differences between basketball in Senegal and college basketball in the U.S., noting the increased physicality.
“In Senegal, we played more for fun than competitively; it was much more laid-back,” Ndoye said. “In college basketball, the physicality makes it a whole new game.”
The physicality of Division I basketball demands players to be strong and powerful on the court, and that’s no different at Bonaventure.
“Every day we have to work hard in the weight room to build up our strength to grab those rebounds, be tough in the post and win games,” Ndoye said.
Toupane agreed that the physicality is a challenge, but also remarked that the language barrier was hard to break.
“We had English classes in Senegal, but it’s still hard to communicate sometimes, especially in school,” he said. “We have great professors and people to help us through it.”
The Bonnies have been ranked as low as 13 in the 13-team Atlantic 10 preseason previews, but neither Ndoye nor Toupane were affected very much by it.
“We just have to work as hard as we can and get better every day,” Toupane said. “We believe that we can have a good season this year.”
For the Bonnies to contend in one of the toughest conferences in college basketball, Schmidt will be looking towards his Senegalese pair to produce night in and night out.
Ndoye and Toupane are ready for the challenge.