MICHIGAN CITY — His journey from Africa may not have the glitz or glamour of NBA superstars Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers or 2019 NBA champion Pascal Siakam of the Toronto Raptors, but former Valparaiso University hooper Moussa Mbaye did what he had to, not just for himself, but for his entire family.
"In this life, you have to have a plan," Mbaye said to the group of young attendees at the annual Love The Game Basketball Camp, hosted by former Wolves standout Jarrod Jones on Tuesday afternoon at Michigan City High School.
Mbaye's plan took many twists and turns along the way, bringing the former Crusader from a poor neighborhood in Dakar, Senegal, with eight other brothers and sisters, to all over the globe, including France, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Tunisia, India, and New Jersey, where he attended Life Career Academy after picking up a basketball for the first time at age 14.
"I come from a basketball school back home called Giving Back," Mbaye said. "Every summer, we try to give back to our community with something like (the camp), so I told (Jarrod) I'd be happy to help."
Jones said he only met Mbaye on Monday through former Marquette Catholic athletic director Tony Mytas. Mbaye currently lives with Mytas until his wife, Fatou, moves from their previous home in Houston to join him in Michigan City, where he just moved to roughly three weeks ago. He works as a youth case worker after obtaining a bachelor's degree in sociology at VU and a minor in sports management.
"(Tony) knows Jarrod and (Monday), he told me that there was this guy that played in France and every year, he's got a camp here," Mbaye said. "(Tony) asked me if I wanted to help and I said, 'Sure, of course. I would love to.'"
Before playing across the Middle East and Europe following his days at Valpo, Mbaye began in Senegal, located on the far west side of Africa. The country gained more acclaim in recent years for the success of Liverpool Football Club star and Champions League winner Sadio Mane. Mbaye's plan was simple, yet extremely difficult: find a way to the United States to go to school and play basketball.
"There was a scout from over (in the United States) who came over (to Senegal) and me and a lot of my friends, about 14 of us ... our only dream was to come here to the United States to play basketball while going to school," Mbaye said, noting all the times he watched films growing up of NBA Hall of Famers Hakeem Olajuwon, who was born on the same continent in Nigeria, and Dikembe Mutombo, who is from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
"We'd work out like, three times a day. We'd work out at five o'clock in the morning, one o'clock in the afternoon and seven o'clock in the evening, so we didn't have much life with school and basketball at the same time. That was really the first time somebody really pushed school and basketball at the same time because back home, we had a semi-pro team, but the organization wasn't that big. A lot of kids played, but not a lot of them went to school."
Mbaye noted that every year once he started playing, scouts from America would fly to Senegal to check out some of the talent the country possessed before the likes of current Minnesota Timberwolves forward Gorgui Dieng and 2019 NCAA Tournament folk hero Tacko Fall arrived on the scene. The desire to come across the Atlantic Ocean to the states for Mbaye came from friends and players he knew getting their opportunity to come to America.
"The motivation right there and the motivation from our families was big," Mbaye said. "Senegal is a poor country and especially when you live in a poor neighborhood ... and like, you can go to school and go to school, but after school, not a lot of people work. They don't find a job. Basketball was our way to get out of poverty, to get out of Senegal. With that right there, you find that motivation."
After high school, Mbaye found himself at Valpo, which brought some of the emphasis about hard work and focusing on improving in his speech at the LTG Camp. Mbaye told the kids he didn't attend parties his freshman year at VU and didn't spend his money given to him on road trips during the season for food or other necessities. Those funds received would be sent back to Senegal to provide for his family where his two children, Mamebousso and Serigne Saliou, still reside.
"That's the mentality that our coaches in Senegal would tell us ... always look back," Mbaye said. "Give to our community. Every day, that's what they would tell us. It was in our mind to do that. When players would come back from the United States, they would give us shoes, T-shirts, headbands, everything. That mentality we learned from home. I love it. I love working with kids. No matter who you are, no matter where you come from, I always give back to the kids because people did that for me, too."
The Senegalese under-21 team captain 2004, Mbaye called it a career three years ago, his basketball globetrotting coming to a close after three ACL surgeries on his right knee. He is more than pleased with the growth of the game in Africa and prideful of the rise in African stars on the hardwood, including Siakam, Raptors forward Serge Ibaka, also from the DRC, and league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, who was raised in Greece, but has true origins in Nigeria.
"Nowadays, a lot of kids in Africa, they have more motivation now than us," Mbaye said. "Because in my time, all we really had to see was Hakeem and Dikembe. The game is way better now than it was before. Seeing Antetokounmpo as MVP, and Siakam and Ibaka as world champions, that gave so many kids in Africa that motivation that now, they know they can make it."