From Senegal to the States
How Eagles guard C.B. Diallo realized his dreams with the help of SEED Academy
In Senegal, a soccer-obsessed country on Africa’s west coast, not many children even dream of playing NCAA Division I basketball in the United States.
For Cheikh Bamba Diallo, known to his friends and teammates as C.B., this remote possibility became a reality. The 6-foot-1-inch guard is living out his wildest fantasies by playing at AU.
Diallo’s story begins in Thies, Senegal’s third-largest city. He grew up in a large family of modest means, he said. Diallo’s father was an avid soccer player who encouraged Diallo and his brothers to play soccer. At a certain point, he and his brothers stumbled upon the game of basketball.
For Diallo, basketball was not love at first sight. The sport was something he grew to love.
“At first I didn’t really like [basketball], but when I started growing up and going to camps, I decided that basketball is something I really like that could help me a lot,” Diallo said.
Growing up down the street from SEED Academy in Thies, Diallo was familiar with its basketball program and the people within it.
SEED, which stands for Sports for Education and Economic Development, is a nonprofit tuition-free boarding school that currently serves 40 boys and girls ranging from sixth to 12th grade.
The Academy, which was founded in 1998, has an environment comparable to that of a preparatory school in the United States. Students attend school during the day while playing competitive basketball, receiving elite training, traveling to recruiting showcases and participating in study sessions on a nightly basis.
Over the years, SEED has produced dozens of Division I basketball players, including Lamine Diane, a Cal State Northridge freshman who is averaging 24.3 points per game, giving him the country’s eighth highest average.
“I used to go over there and hang out with the guys,” Diallo said.
As time progressed, Diallo saw what the program was doing for the children involved and decided it was something he wanted to join.
Eventually, Diallo started trying out for acceptance to SEED Academy. After a few years of trying out, Diallo’s wishes came true. He was accepted at the age of 16 years old. With that acceptance, Diallo’s life changed forever.
Aside from producing highly talented basketball players, SEED produces good, mature people, Diallo said.
“They challenge you every day so you can grow up as a man,” he said. “I really grew up there.”
Thanks to SEED, Diallo was able to display his basketball skills to the world.
“In the summer of 2013, I was with SEED and they took me to a camp called BWB in South Africa, and I ended being MVP of the all star game,” he said.
Due to his standout performance, Diallo earned a scholarship to attend Cape Fear Christian Academy in North Carolina while playing basketball for its team.
Going to play basketball halfway around the world was a scary proposition for Diallo, but with the assistance of others, his transition from life in Senegal to the U.S. was a smooth one.
“It was kind of hard, but I got a host family that took me in as their own and they helped me a lot,” Diallo said. “They helped me learn about the United States, what to do and what not to do.”
Diallo prospered on the hardwood, earning a scholarship to attend Kilgore College, a two-year junior college in rural Texas. For Diallo, this was quite the accomplishment, as Kilgore is known for developing talented players, such as former Ole Miss star Stefan Moody.
Not skipping a beat, Diallo averaged 9.6 points per game during his two seasons at Kilgore, while shooting 38.6 percent on three point attempts.
After his sophomore season at Kilgore, Diallo was looking for a new home. At the last minute, an opportunity popped up for the Senegalese combo guard.
“My assistant coach at Kilgore [Matt Wilson], used to play at American, so when he heard American needed a guard late, he talked with Mike Brennan, and that’s how I got here,” Diallo said.
Diallo, eager to prove himself at the Division I level, arrived at American in the fall of 2017. The Eagles were prepared for a rough season due to inexperience and youth, but this didn’t stop Diallo from playing his game and contributing.
During the Eagles 6-24 campaign last season, Diallo became a productive sharpshooter, averaging 5.3 points per game while connecting on 33 three-pointers.
Although Diallo was frustrated with the struggles of his team, he was proud of his personal performance throughout his first season.
“Deep down in me, I know that everywhere I go, I can produce, get in the game and do what I do to help the team get a win,” he said.
Coming into this season, Diallo knew his squad would be much improved. This year’s Eagles lineup has an abundance of talent and depth, and despite a few minor injuries, the squad has stayed relatively healthy throughout the first 24 games.
“Last year we had a lot of young players who were learning at the time, and right now they know what’s going on and what it takes to win games,” Diallo said.
Thus far, the Eagles are one of the most improved teams in the country and remain at the middle of the pack in the Patriot League. Diallo’s playing time has been limited, though he has seen the court more of late.
From Nov. 24 through Jan. 26, Diallo played a combined 23 minutes over the 16-game stretch.
This lack of playing time has been challenging for Diallo to handle, but he has remained positive, and his attitude has paid off.
Surely enough, Diallo’s opportunity to contribute presented itself. With the recent injuries to starters Marvin Bragg and Sam Iorio, Diallo found himself playing over 22 minutes per game over a three game period from Jan. 30 through Feb. 6.
“I just kept on playing because I knew the opportunity would present itself,” Diallo said. “It’s a long season…I worked hard every day in practice and I never let myself down.”
Diallo’s optimistic outlook and reportedly playful attitude about life is something that has contributed to the chemistry of this Eagles team. In an interview regarding Diallo’s story with the Patriot League Network, head coach Mike Brennan praised the player.
“C.B.’s been a great kid, full of energy, and that’s the way he practices every day, and you know, he’s a great personality to have on the team and in the locker room,” Brennan said.
Spencer Nusbaum contributed to the reporting of this story.
This article originally appeared in The Eagle's March 2019 print edition.