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Diagne embraces Senegal try-out at #AfroBasketWomen 2019
DAKAR (Senegal) - From afar, Fatou Babou Diagne exudes the confidence of a young and upcoming player seeking a chance to impress and hold a permanent place in the Senegal side even way after the ongoing FIBA Women's AfroBasket 2019.
But when one gets closer to talk to her, she casts a very shy and introverted figure despite standing at 1.95m (6ft5in) - not your ordinary height for an African girl except she is Senegalese - a nation renowned for their tall people.
The 23-year old, who was born in Thies - the third largest city in Senegal located in the west, is playing at her first major competition for her country and does not hide her excitement.
Playing in front of thousands of fans has been a true test of her character and it has inevitably questioned her ability to play at this level with all the stakes at hand but from the look of things, she has managed the situation very well.
"I REMEMBER AT THE BEGINNING OF THE OPENING CEREMONY, I CRIED BECAUSE OF ALL THE PEOPLE THAT CAME TO SUPPORT US. I WAS SO EMOTIONAL. I AM REALLY PROUD TO BE HERE, TO BE SELECTED FOR SENEGAL BECAUSE I LOVE MY COUNTRY AND I WANT TO HELP THE TEAM."
Diagne has always dreamt of playing for the Senegal national women's team and most notably grew up watching Mame-Marie Sy and Astou Traore and spent days visualising, working hard on her game and praying that one day, just one day she will attain this dream.
Diagne poses with her role model Astou Traore
Timing is very important in life and for Diagne, when that phone call to be part of the provisional list came through, she could not sleep. It was the perfect summer gift. She promised herself full commitment to the Senegalese cause and here she is.
"I grew up watching Mame-Marie[Sy] and Astou[Traore] and I used to ask myself, "When will I ever get a chance to meet them?" I am so happy that now I am on the same team with them. Everyday I learn something new from them. They push me. They keep saying that I can do better," explains Diagne.
With their support, she confesses that they help her to overcome her shyness on court which they want her to shade off in order to be tougher against opponents.
Her family's support has been massive in her career since she started playing but also since she moved to the USA where she is studying International Business at Purdue University in West Lafayette in Indiana.
"I was so happy to see my family here at the Dakar Arena because it was the first time that they saw me playing," Diagne explained with a grin on her face.
She describes the moment that she was summoned by Senegal head coach Cheikh Sarr to take her place on court as a memorable one. She said, "I do not even know how to explain but my heart was pumping. Oh my God! I just had to give my best and I want to give even more because I always tell myself that that is not enough."
Sarr said, "I had five options on this position before the competition but I selected her in the final roster. When I gave her her first opportunity to go onto the court and play, I told her to have fun and enjoy the game. I have no expectations from her. I just want her to play her game."
Diagne scored five points and picked five rebounds against Cote d'Ivoire in their opener before picking an impressive nine rebounds, dropped eight points and registered two blocks.
Currently averaging 6.5 points and nine rebounds, Diagne admitted that her goal is to continue improving as the tournament heads into the business end.
Her journey has been a long one and she narrated that, "I remember at the beginning of the opening ceremony, I cried because of all the people that came to support us. I was so emotional. I am really proud to be here, to be selected for Senegal because I love my country and I want to help the team."
Hosts Senegal take on two-time African champions Angola in the battle for a Semi-Final slot on Thursday at 19:00 GMT at the breathtaking Dakar Arena.