CONWAY — Coastal Carolina forward Badou Diagne returned home to his native Senegal this past summer for the first time in 21/2 years, and as much as he relished the opportunity to see his mother and eat the food familiar from his youth, the trip also helped him realize how comfortable hes gotten in the United States.
It was really nice, but I feel comfortable being here now because when I went home I was there for a little bit and then was like, I kind of miss the U.S. But I didnt want to tell anybody, he said with a laugh.
Now more than three years into his American basketball journey, Diagne has assimilated himself into a new culture, and midway through his second season with the Chanticleers, he looks to be adjusting well to coach Cliff Ellis system and expectations as well.
After looking lost in the mix at times early in the season, including a couple games where he didnt even get off the bench, the second-year 6-foot-7 forward has moved back into the starting lineup the last three games while starting to harness his ever apparent athleticism.
In Coastals 61-58 win Saturday at Campbell, Diagne had eight points including two powerful dunks and seven offensive rebounds in 24 minutes after scoring in double figures in two of the previous three games.
As the streaking Chants (13-9, 6-2 Big South) winners of six of their last seven host a similarly hot High Point team Wednesday night at The HTC Center, theyll hope Diagne can continue his progression as they look to stay atop the standings in the conference championship race.
I think the confidence factor with Badou has been a key, Ellis said. Hes been able to do some things offensively to give him some confidence. Hes making shots. Hes got the athleticism, hes always had the athleticism, hes just been learning how to play. And when youre learning how to play and you have good things happen to you then confidence comes with it.
After making 19 starts as a rookie last season while averaging 5.4 points and 4.3 rebounds and periodically flashing his big-game potential, Diagne totaled a combined five points through the first nine games of this season while not logging any playing time in two of those contests.
Just like that, he had gone from starter to fringe-rotation option.
It was really frustrating, but Ive been in that situation before when I first came here, Diagne said. So I knew I had to work to get back where I wanted to be.
And throughout his two seasons at Coastal, he has had a strong ally nearby to make sure that motivation never wanes.
Like Diagne, Chants assistant coach Mamadou NDiaye comes from Dakar, Senegal, and their relationship dates back before either had arrived at Coastal.
Badous like a blood brother, NDiaye said. We talk all the time. Im like a brother to him. Its not a coach and player relationship; its more brotherhood. I know him since Senegal, and actually his mom entrusted him to me. He could have went to many places; just the relationship is why he came here. But still Im very hard on him. But after the game we talk. He knows I have his best interests at heart.
NDiaye says Diagne comes from a well-off family that owns a nice home in Senegal and can afford to have a bodyguard stationed outside. He teases Diagne that hes a bourgeoisie for his fortunate upbringing.
But nonetheless, having made the same cross-country journey in his own basketball career as he came to the United States and played college basketball for Ellis at Auburn before a professional career in the NBA and overseas, NDiaye thinks Diagnes return home this past summer was an important trip for the player entering a pivotal year of his collegiate career.
Its always good to go back because you forget sometimes where you came from, NDiaye said. Its always good to go back home and see friends and family. I think it gets you re-motivated to understand why you left because we all know why we are doing something, why we came here to have a better life, to maximize our potential, to take opportunities this great nation is giving us. But still its always good to go back. When you go and see it, it always helps you be more thankful of the opportunity.
Diagne said his friends back home dont have a real understanding for what hes doing over here, but they are excited for him nonetheless.
They think its really nice. When I went there, they were like all excited. Most of them think that Im here making a lot of money. [I tell them], Im in college, Im studying! he said with a laugh. They say theyre waiting for me to be in the NBA. I was like, [Yeah] ... hopefully.
One step at a time.
Coastal has morphed from being projected in the preseason as a middle of the pack Big South team to owning the best conference record to date and looking like a legitimate championship contender.
The play of the teams three starting guards has been the driving force, but the Chants fate might ultimately come down to the continued maturation of the front-court players.
In addition to starting senior center El Hadji Ndieguene, who leads the team with 7.7 rebounds per game, sophomore forwards Michel Enanga (6.2 points, 6.0 rebounds pre game) and Uros Ljeskovic (4.5, 3.6) have also had their moments. And now with Diagnes rejuvenation, the team has a stable of options from which to find frontcourt production.
For his part, Diagne said while hes pleased to be contributing more of late, it doesnt matter so much that hes the one starting at that position now as long as the Chants continue moving forward as a whole.
The most important thing is just winning games, he said.
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318, or follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/RyanYoungTSN.