SMU Mensí Basketball Team Prepares for African Adventure
DALLAS – The SMU athletics brand is about to cross the Atlantic.
On May 25, the men’s basketball team departs for a 15-day tour of Africa that includes stops in the nations of Senegal and South Africa. The trip will mark the first time an SMU basketball team has played on another continent. (The football team played in Japan in 1983.)
The Senegal itinerary includes a day-trip to St. Louis, the hometown of Mustangs Papa Dia and Bamba Fall.
In partnerships with Adidas and the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders, the Mustangs will conduct coaching and skills clinics and play exhibition games against several national teams while in country.
SMU players eligible for the trip include all those from last season’s squad, minus seniors Jon Killen, Derrick Roberts and Paulius Ritter.
Head coach Matt Doherty said the idea for trip had it genesis in 2006. With Fall on the roster and Dia being recruited, it made sense, he said. “I just said, ‘Everyone takes a trip to a foreign country,’” Doherty recalled. “‘You’re allowed to do it every four years. Why don’t we go to Africa?’”
Doherty said these trips highlight basketball’s world-wide popularity. “It is a truly global game. Soccer is certainly a global game, but I think basketball is probably a close second, if not first.”
Newly-named assistant coach Malcolm Farmer has done “all the legwork” for the trip, he said.
Farmer talked of travel preparations on Wednesday, after the team’s annual banquet at the Radisson Hotel Central Dallas.
“It’s obviously a very involved project,” he said of booking flights, hotels, meals and gymnasiums. “It’s always difficult to plan a trip to a place where you’ve never been.”
“But, it’s certainly come along very well and we have some good, concrete plans laid out.”
Players, coaches, trainers and others are completing a regimen of required shots for the trip.
Farmer said the Mustangs’ opportunity is quite unique. “A vast majority [of Americans] have never been and will never go to Africa,” he said. “It’s just a culture and a lifestyle that, generally, we have very little awareness of.”
“That’s really the benefit of the trip. For the rest of our players’ lives, they’re going to have this experience and have been to these places that most people will never dream of visiting.”
Farmer said players were a bit shocked when first learning of the trip. “But it was a good shock,” he said.
Dia didn’t believe it at first. “I thought Coach Farmer was playing with me,” he said.
Farmer said Dia and Fall have been a big help. “I can go to them and say, ‘Between these two places, which one would be more educational, more beneficial for our team to go to?’”
“Sometimes, I think they set me up,” he said, smiling. “[They] try to give me a hard time and say, ‘This is gonna happen and I’m gonna be there to protect you, Coach.’ And other times, [it’s] ‘You’re on your own. I’m not gonna help you at all.’”
This Pony expedition is not just about hoops. Players will receive three-hours of academic credit for a course entitled, Peoples and Cultures of Africa. “They’ll be doing some prep work before we leave,” said Doherty.
“It’s going to be a real learning experience for our guys.”
Accompanying the team will be SMU professor Josephine Caldwell-Ryan and Dr. Vicki Hill of SMU’s Altshuler Learning Enhancement Center.
On working with other coaches Doherty said, “We’re going to definitely exchange ideas and provide clinics - not that we know it all, because I certainly always like to learn from other people. But I think that we’re not doing our job as ambassadors for the game of basketball if we don’t go over there and willingly share ideas with people.”
Doherty said he’s not overly concerned about security for the group while abroad.
“I asked someone who is from there and who’s helped organize the trip if we should be concerned about that and they said no. It’s like going to New York. It’s like going to Miami. In any big city in this country there’s always safety concerns and security issues.”
Fall and Dia agreed that where they are going is safe.
Over four days in Dakar, the Mustangs play a three-game round-robin tournament against national teams and conduct coaching clinics and camps for kids. In South Africa, stops will include five days each in Cape Town and Johannesburg, with more games and clinics.
The team will receive tours of each city visited.
“I’ve always wanted to go over there [to Africa], hearing about the safaris and things like that,” said guard Ryan Harp after Wednesday’s banquet.
“I think it will really … bond us together.”
“Just seeing … what it was like for these guys [Fall and Dia] growing up and what kind of culture they lived in, I think it will help us relate to them better.”
What about souvenirs for Harp? “A lion,” joked Dia. “A cheetah,” Fall chimed in.
“I’ll have to find something interesting,” Harp said. “I’ll probably just take lots of pictures, maybe keep a journal or something.”
“If I find something cool, I’ll have to bring it back.”
Kidding aside, Dia suggested Senegalese clothing and jewelry.
Dia, a sophomore forward next season, said he plans to take teammates to the beach in St. Louis and looks forward to introducing them to cultural traditions – like spicy Senegalese food.
“The food over there is different,” Dia said. “In the United States, they like to eat processed food. But over there, the food is … organic and natural.”
“No McDonald’s,” he said. “None of that.”
Dia’s parents, three brothers and two sisters live in St. Louis. He hasn’t seen them in over four years. Another sister is in the United States. Fall, next season’s senior center, has parents and two younger brothers in St. Louis.
Fall said he’s excited for the chance to finally show his teammates his home. “I think it’s great,” he said, “because you get all these guys asking, ‘What is this like? What is this like?’”
Though in Africa last summer playing for the Senegalese national team, Fall said he didn’t get to see his family.
Harp said he expects tough competition from the national teams. “I’m assuming they’re really good, talented [and] athletic,” he said. “I imagine they might play a different type of ball, something we haven’t seen before.”
Doherty said fans at home can keep up with the Mustangs by reading his blog updates on smumustangs.com. “It’s going to be a great trip for our kids and our program,” he said.