For a player who first played organised basketball at the age of 19, playing in the first edition of the Basketball Africa League (BAL) five months ago in Kigali, Rwanda was a life-changing experience and the realization of a childhood dream.
Unlike some of Senegal’s brightest basketball talents, Mamadou Faye has never played college basketball stateside; he never joined Europe’s renowned basketball academies; Faye had never been called up to represent his country at national team level, however, when the BAL opportunity presented itself in front of him, the 28-year-old grabbed it with open arms to showcase his talent.
In fact, the 6’6” guard with an impressive athleticism and ability to shoot and attack the rim, did so well in the BAL while playing for former Senegalese champions AS Douanes, that his phone was inundated with congratulatory messages from friends, teammates, and members of his family.
However, one message in particular would completely change Faye’s perspective of basketball forever.
“Coach Boniface [Ndong] called me, saying that he had heard some good things about me, then he watched me play and wanted to invite me to join the national team,” Faye recalled in an exclusive interview with The BAL.
Ndong – a legend in Senegal basketball ranks – is the current head coach of Senegal men’s team.
“I couldn’t believe it how the BAL’s exposure could give me a chance to play for my country,” said Faye who led AS Douanes with team-highs 14.8 points and 5.3 assists per game.
And so, a Senegalese star was born at the Basketball Africa League. In the Kigali Bubble, AS Douanes fell to eventual BAL runners-up US Monastir in the quarterfinals, not only because the Tunisian champions “were the best team in the tournament” in Faye’s opinion, but also because the first edition of the FIBA-NBA tournament served as a learning process and eye-opening experience for basketball back in Senegal.
“We lost by one in the Senegalese championship Finals. It was a tough loss, but in one game we lost it all. We were the best team in the Championship I believe,” Faye, whose AS Douanes dominated Senegal’s landscape in recent years, insisted.
“Because of The BAL, most teams in the Senegalese Championship became highly-motivated now. They have something to compete for. The BAL has become a great motivation for teams here in Senegal I have no doubts.”
Why has Mamadou Faye taken so long to be on the limelight?
“The level of our Championship is good. As an example we had three local players in our national team squad in the AfroBasket. It’s a matter of having more opportunities and exposure to international audiences.”
Faye says that he is open to play in the BAL again even if it means to play for another African basketball team.
“If I have the chance to return to the BAL, I will do it for sure because of the special experience that it is to play against some of Africa’s best teams.”
Asked to name the players that he admired the most in the first edition of the BAL, Faye didn’t hesitate to name Omar Abada, Anas Mahmoud, Walter Hodge and Myck Kabongo. “Those players added value to the BAL,” Faye said.
What happened a month after the BAL 2021 was the opportunity that Faye waited for years: Playing his national team.
Faye’s national team debut was delayed after Senegal pulled out of one of the four FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournaments, played across four cities, namely Victoria (Canada), Split (Croatia), Kaunas (Lithuania) and Belgrade (Serbia) after a COVID-19 case affected the team.
“It’s better later than never,” said Faye, who eventually wore the Senegalese jersey for the first time at official competition in August when Senegal outscore Uganda 93-55 in Group D of AfroBasket 2021.
“You don’t always have the opportunity to play for the national team, but if the national team needs me, I will always be ready,” said the man who helped Senegal finished third in the latest edition of FIBA AfroBasket held in August in Rwanda.
“Playing with guys like Henry Pierria and Gorgui Dieng, you always learn something new. Even the coaching staff give you valuable tips about your positioning and approach to the game. It was great learning experience for me.”
Faye helped Senegal finish third at AfroBasket 2021.