David Wilder is the host father for Moustapha Diagne and he talked with CuseConfidential.com about what the past couple of years were like for the new Syracuse commitment.
How were Tapha 's first days here in America?
Let me begin by recalling a bit about Moustapha's first day here. Hereafter, I'll refer to him as Tapha - his preferred nickname. Tapha had recently turned 17 when he came Stateside. It was the only trip he had taken out of his native Senegal. A 16-hour excursion: from Dakar, to Brussels, to Newark-Liberty International Airport. He was, by definition, an inexperienced international traveler. He was full of emotions - from nervousness and uncertainty, to great excitement and hope. We had every reason to believe Tapha would be mentally exhausted. He had just a few days to make ready to travel after receiving governmental permission to study in the US. He later admitted the reason he arrived with so little on his person was he got caught up in the moment and mistakenly left a carryon bag filled with personal effects (family photos, keepsakes, clothing, etc.) on the plane. Coach Jason Hasson (Pope John XXIII) and I picked him up with great anticipation. This young man's life was about to change dramatically. Ours, too! Coming down the corridor to baggage claim it was clear Tapha was not a jockey. At 6'9" 200 lbs, he was a sizeable figure with a respectful, upright demeanor. He was understandably quiet, yet patiently answered our many questions to the best of his ability. Months later he fessed up, "I was so nervous AND HUNGRY!" It was clear our first stop would be the Mall at Short Hills for a little shopping to replace some items he needed and introduce him to some traditional American cuisine at Joe's American Grill (Note: I remember him specifically asking for 'a burger -a BIG burger' and they make'em BIG there!). Note: with an 18-month steady diet of burgers, pizza, wings, steaks & shakes, protein drinks and chicken cooked every-which-way, combined with Coach Hasson and his staff's professional training and Tapha's solid weight room work ethic, he has himself beefed up to 245 pounds; a power forward frame and still growing!).
After the mall, it was off to Sparta (NJ) to tour the school (Pope John XXIII), meet some of his classmates and fellow basketball players. It was a warm reception. Tapha became part of the Lions Hoop Family in short order. One of greeters was a French speaking student-athlete from Cameroon who made Tapha's reception feel a little more like home. The last school introduction was to PJ President Msgr. Kieran McHugh (who ultimately made this opportunity possible). The last stop would be our nearby home to meet the other members of his host family and acclimate to his new surroundings. The intention of all involved was to provide a positive environment for study and personal development for as long as Tapha would need us to be here for him. Eighteen months later (with a little over a year remaining until his high school graduation), it can be characterized as a very positive experience for our family. He's one of us and receives the same love and constructive instruction as our other five children. Although there isn't a shred of family resemblance, we have matching hearts.
Talk about how his game has developed since he arrived?
I've coached for a number of years for leagues that can loosely be called "competitive." That hardly qualifies me to make a definitive assessment. For that you should ask Coach Hasson. That being said, I do know, and have a love for, the game. I have watched Tapha play a lot - at all levels of competition. He's gotten a lot better and he was already very good when he arrived to America. From ball handling and foot work to shot selection and floor leadership, Tapha has improved at every conceivable, measureable level. His scholarship offers from Cincinnati, Kansas, Memphis, Rutgers (to name a few) is evidence of his basketball bona fides. Coach Boeheim has told Tapha time and again that he can do things offensively (even as a high school junior) that most PFs and Centers aren't even attempting or are just beginning to showcase at the collegiate level. He's way too much for most 4s to handle physically and too quick for 5s to stay with. He is ambidextrous and can short jump hook with either hand with relative ease. He has a vastly improved one-dribble pull-up game. His ball handling has progressed resulting in most overzealous defenders watching Tapha go by them and JAM! He will add a dynamic dimension to the Orange frontcourt play because he can score the ball in a variety of ways (including a developing 15' to 18' jump shot). Of particular note is the fact Tapha was in the Top 10 in the State of New Jersey in assists this past season. He is an unselfish player with a tremendous nose for the ball and basket. He scored nearly 500 points last season on a Pope John team replete with D-1 talent and balanced scoring. Syracuse is getting a good one with a tremendous upside.
When did you know that Tapha was going to be something special?
The real answer, honestly, is when I knew he boarded that plane in Dakar, let it take off with him on it, and set foot on foreign soil in totally unfamiliar surroundings. If a young man of his age had the courage to leave Senegal, part from his biological family, coaches and friends whom he trusted and loved, to distance himself from everything that gave him security, to trek to America to take the necessary steps to live his dream to one day have a college education and play professional basketball it was then that I knew he was already something special. Soon later, when he naturally, sincerely and consistently showed respect ("May I please?"), gratitude ("Thank you"), sorrow at misunderstandings ("I'm sorry") and used just plain manners in his daily dealings with everyone, those were markers of something very special and a solid foundation from his parents and coaches. When I saw him at a Pope John pre-season pep rally dunk two balls on one attempt, well, that sealed it! The young man is special.