SMU and Africa : A Winning Combination
The SMU basketball team recently returned from a tour of Africa .Coach Farmer has given permission to have his blog on SMU and Africa be published on this site.
"Pony up" .
Reflections on the Tour d' Africa
Assistant Coach Malcolm Farmer
When we initially announced our Tour D'Africa last October, people generally had one response... "Why Africa ?" College basketball programs frequently take foreign tours to various countries in Europe, Australia , and even the Caribbean, but Africa was an endeavor that very few college programs had previously toured. Anyways, my standard response to question of "Why Africa?" was to ask if the individual had ever been to Europe . Typically, each of these questioners had been to Europe previously for any number of reasons, but had never been to Africa . Ignoring our obvious personnel connections to Senegal (Bamba, Papa, and Mouhammad), it is for precisely this reason that Africa represents quite possibly the most worthwhile destination for a foreign tour in my estimation. I whole-heartedly believe that every one of our players will visit Europe at some point in their lives (if they haven't already). Whether it be for basketball, business, or personal
reasons is irrelevant... the bottom line is that the chances of them seeing Europe at some point in their lives is very strong. In contrast, if we didn't take this trip to Africa I can honestly say that I don't think the bulk of our travel party would ever have the opportunity to see Africa during the course of their lives. Looking back on the trip, it ended up representing everything that I could have hoped. It encompassed all of what college basketball should be about... it was a great basketball experience, a fantastic academic experience, a tremendous relationship building trip, and finally a wonderful marketing opportunity for SMU as a whole.
From a basketball perspective there are obviously countless benefits from a foreign tour such as this. The practices leading up to the trip provide a refresher course in offensive and defensive principles from last season and (hopefully) speed up the teaching process next fall. The competition that we encountered in Africa was better than most people realize - and probably better than many teams receive in trips to Europe since many of the best players in Senegal/South Africa jumped at the opportunity to play. Senegal is one of the premiere basketball countries on the continent and has an organized national team building towards each international competition. South Africa has a number of players who play professionally in a variety of leagues. The athleticism and physical strength of the players we faced was a great test for our team. I must say that going into the trip I certainly had my questions about the quality of competition we would face...
however after the trip it does not surprise me at all that basketball is growing in Africa at an extremely fast rate.
From an educational perspective, the trip was second to none. As some of you may be aware I did my undergraduate work at Notre Dame, and while I believe that I received a very strong education, I would say that I learned more on this trip than in any single year of college. I am now a firm believer that ten minutes of hands-on experience is worth more than 100 hours of research. In conjunction with the trip, our student-athletes took a three-credit Anthropology course entitled "Peoples of Africa" taught by Dr. Joci Ryan-Caldwell. In the 25 hours of class time leading up to the trip, Dr. Ryan did an incredible job of providing the students the base knowledge necessary to understand and appreciate the experience they were about to have. Then, having Dr. Ryan on the trip allowed for the application and enhancement of this knowledge to continue throughout the trip. Our tour guides in Senegal provided us with a well-rounded experience. Many thanks to Kine,
Mactar, Assane, Brian, and Mame Laye. Their commitment to making this a memorable experience for all involved was truly admirable - and their ability to adapt on the go made the entirely trip remarkably smooth and easy-going from our perspective. Touring Dakar and seeing the evolving infrastructure brought the things we learned in class to life. Visiting Goree Island and contrasting the perspectives of the people there with the perspective of those in the States as well as with other individuals' personal perspectives brought not only the history of Goree Island to life, but history around the world as well. Driving to St. Louis , visiting Thies, and seeing the Senegalese countryside provided us with an understanding of not only the major cities in Senegal , but also of the economy and infrastructure of the country as a whole. Finally, visiting Pink Lake gave us a conclusion to our stay for which words cannot do justice.
The experience in Johannesburg was also memorable, although for very different reasons than Senegal . Johannesburg is one of the most developed cities in the world and its thoroughly developed economy and infrastructure provided a stark contrast to Senegal . However, the relatively recent struggle against apartheid that South Africa endured, and the associated history, brought books and events to life for our students. Many thanks to Sophie, Joe, Mike, and Myke for their assistance in putting together a first-class experience. The homes of Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, the Freedom Charter, and the Pieterson memorial and museum are experiences that one does not easily forget. Lesedi Village and Pilanesburg National Park provided cultural experiences that further brought Africa out of the textbooks and into real life.
Despite the basketball benefits and educational experience, the greatest part of the trip was seeing the country, culture, and homes of three of our student-athletes. Over the years, I have worked with student-athletes from Croatia , the Netherlands , Nigeria , the Dominican Republic , Lithuania , Poland , and Senegal . However, this was the first opportunity that I have had to see their homes. Meeting the families of Bamba, Papa, and Mouhammad was as moving an experience as I have had while at SMU. I cannot imagine being so far removed from home for the lengths of time that these three have been while attending school in a foreign land. I believe that Bamba put it best in one of his blogs during the trip... it was an opportunity for his American family to meet his Senegal family. This blending of families and cultures, is what a team is all about. While meeting Papa's and Mouhammad's families was very important, and much was accomplished in the process,
it was meeting Bamba's mother that left me speechless. Simply based on the fact that I have been working with Bamba for 2.5 years (as compared to a year with Papa and only a few months with Mouhammad) my relationship with Bamba is, at this point, deeper than with the others. Anybody who has worked with our basketball program knows that there are days when I will not talk to Bamba, and days when Bamba will not talk to me. However, I also know that Bamba has taught me countless things, and I hope that I have taught Bamba a few things as well. While Bamba's mom does not speak English (and I certainly do not speak Wolof) our private conversation (through an interpreter) was the highlight of the trip for me. I will say that while I have been involved in some memorable victories in college basketball, and players being drafted into the NBA, meeting Bamba's mother, as well as the other families, was the second most memorable moment of my involvement in college
basketball. The first? When I was at Western Illinois University we had a player from the Dominican Republic who earned his business degree after many long hours of studying... and let it be known that by this time next year I fully expect Bamba to have joined Eulis Baez at the top of that list.
Finally, from a marketing perspective, I believe that the Tour d'Africa was very beneficial from a University-wide standpoint. Both in Dakar and in Johannesburg I received countless inquiries from parents and kids as to how they can come to SMU. After providing them the website address and a business card I am confident that many of them will at the very least check out SMU. From a University standpoint, athletics should serve as a marketing arm - broadening the reach and appeal of the University beyond the normal clientele. Without a doubt, the Senegalese and South African communities recognize and know about SMU following the trip. However, our reach was far broader as the entire continent of Africa will be receiving our game against South Africa on tape delay via satellite.
College basketball is about a lot of things - good, bad, and indifferent. However, this tour represented everything that college basketball should be about: basketball, education, bridging the cultural gap, and marketing for the University as a whole. I am not sure that it is possible for a foreign tour to accomplish more.
Note: If anyone wishes to ever take a group to either Senegal or South Africa and would like the contact information for our tour organizers, or would simply like to discuss the logistics of such a trip with me, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I sincerely hope that more groups will take the time to visit these places - it truly will benefit everyone. I know that I plan to go back in the near future.
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