Baboucarr Bojang and Njogou Bah have come to the United States to get a better education.
The two are also getting a lesson about basketball this weekend, playing with the Upstate Greenville 16-and-under Youth Basketball of America team this weekend at Augusta Christian as part of the sixth annual Augusta/Richmond County Classic Basketball Tournament.
Bojang, a 6-foot-8 forward, and Bah, a 6-foot-6 forward, are sophomores at Greenville Wade Hampton High. They have been playing basketball for less than three years and have been in the United States only eight months.
The two players along with 6-foot-6 Abdoulie Sowe, who is playing on the Greenville 17-and-under team, grew up in Gambia, West Africa playing soccer. Bojang and Bah are strikers in soccer and play on the Wade Hampton varsity soccer team. But both players see basketball, not soccer, as their ticket to college athletics.
"Basketball because of my height," said Bojang of which sport he prefers to play in college.
Bah is already starting to like basketball better than soccer. The players on the Greenville team have given Bah the nickname "Shaq," because of his shot-blocking ability while Bojang's nickname is "Sweetwater," a name he hates and that was given to him by an uncle in West Africa.
The players are still learning the game and American culture. Bojang said the weather here is a lot colder than what he was used to in West Africa and they saw snow for the first time ever in January.
Greenville coach James Allen said the people in the community have fallen in love with not only Bojang and Bah but Sowe as well.
"Everybody is crazy about them and everybody takes care of them," Allen said. "They are good kids. Shaq (Bah) comes up to me after every practice and says, `Coach, what can I do to get better?"'
Wade Hampton will have to be regarded as one of the favorites for the South Carolina Class AAA state title next season. The team finished 19-8 this season and defeated Class AAA state finalist Greenville in Region 2-AAA play. Greenville was led by James Griffin, South Carolina's Mr. Basketball, and his state's No. 1 prep prospect.
The West African players, who all stand 6-foot-6 or better, have been joking teammate Quentin McCombs. McCombs, a sophomore at Greenville, played a key role on the Greenville team that lost to Holly Hill-Roberts in the Class AAA state championship game and is the heir apparent to Griffin.
McCombs, who is one of the best 3-point shooters at the tournament this weekend, appears to be following in the recent flux of great Greenville 3-point shooters that includes North Carolina shooting guard Shammond Williams and Griffin.
But the West African connection has been sending him messages for next year at this week's Classic.
"I told him (McCombs) to come to Wade Hampton if he wants to win the state (title) next year," Bojang said.
McCombs, a 6-foot-1 guard, said the West African trio can be intimidating when you have to play against them.
"I was scared to go to the hole against them," said McCombs of Greenville's encounters with Wade Hampton this season.
The West African players are far from finished products, but they have good feet, hands and jumping ability. Greenville's 16-and-under pool was one of the most competitive of the weekend which included Atlanta's Team Champion, Gainesville Gunners, Atlanta Bullets and an Augusta team that featured Butler guard Richard Wilson.
This weekend's competition will go a long way in the development of the players. Bah, who owns a brown belt in the martial arts, reiterated his coaches' comments.
"I know there is something I can work on," Bah said. "Ball-handling, dribbling, something."
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