BY MEGAN KOLODGY
Daily Sports Writer
Published February 21, 2005
It is quite rare that a player with fewer than two years of experience in the game and whose high school stats were solid but not fantastic, is recruited by a school of Michigan’s caliber, even in a rebuilding year. To this day, Lesure uses Ba’s story to illustrate to his players that recruiting is an idiosyncratic and unpredictable process.
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It spiraled from there.
Despite Lesure’s doubt, a dearth of big men nationally, and specifically within Michigan’s program, drove Ramsey to continue to pursue Ba. Plus, as anyone who’s ever known him will attest, Ba is a personable, intelligent guy — a dream come true for a program that was being reconstructed around a clean-cut image. Finally, one November day, Lesure received a phone call that he never could have anticipated.
“I wasn’t thinking anyone was going to pull the trigger,” Lesure said. “Then Ramsey informs me that he thinks Michigan is going to offer Amadou a scholarship. And I was like, ‘Holy shit.’ ”
Lesure promptly sat Ba down at his dining room table and laid out the situation. He told the Ba that if he went to Michigan, he’d likely never be a 1,000-point scorer, and that he’d have a better basketball career if he went to a smaller school. He also said that, at Michigan, even though he probably wouldn’t play much, he’d get a top-notch education.
That was all Ba needed to hear. After all, education was what he’d left his family and friends in Mauritania for.
Ba’s life was different than that of the average Mauritanian. His parents were married, and both worked fulltime — his mother as a middle school teacher and his father as a car trader, providing used cars to those who cannot afford new ones.
His parents constantly emphasized the importance of education to success — not the norm in a country in which just 31 percent of women and 52 percent of men are able to read, and 60 percent of children are enrolled in primary school.
Ba’s schooling was spattered with periods of several weeks during which school was closed due to fighting in the streets of Nouakchott, his hometown and the largest city in the country. Within the confines of his home, Ba felt safe, but, outside those walls, conflict ravaged the country.
“When they close school, it’s not safe to go out anymore,” Ba said. “There’s a lot of stuff happening — people getting killed, people getting kidnapped. It doesn’t matter if you’re (rioting) or not (rioting). They don’t care. They just want to create chaos.”
In Mauritania, without an education, you are likely to end up a soldier. Ba and his three brothers all avoided this fate — his brothers went to college in Paris — and his younger sister continues to live at home with his parents.
Despite the fact that Ba’s mother wanted him to get a great education, she was not crazy about the idea of sending him to the United States.
“She really didn’t want me to come here because she didn’t know a lot about the American culture except for what she’s seen on TV and from Hollywood,” Ba said. “So there was not a lot she’d seen besides violence, sex and drugs. I was young, and she didn’t want me to be around that stuff.”
Eventually, she got used to the idea, and Ba made his way West.
Adjusting to Ann Arbor
Playing for Michigan was not as simple as just signing on the dotted line. Although Ba was verbally advanced in English, his two years of experience could never have properly equipped him to pass the SAT.
“It’s almost criminal that the NCAA hasn’t adjusted because of language barriers,” said Lesure, who was blown away by the scope and quality of Ba’s work in the coach’s history class.
But true to form, Ba was persistent, and, eventually he passed the test.
Now that he’s here, adapting to United States’ culture is an everyday process for Ba.
When he first came to Ann Arbor, few players on the team could understand him, due to his thick accent.
“Because I lived with him, it was easier for me to understand him,” said captain Sherrod Harrell, who was Ba’s roommate freshman year. “Every time he said something to someone else, they would look at me to sort of translate what he was saying.”
Since then, Ba has become one of the Wolverines’ favorite jokesters, and, although he doesn’t play much, he has a critical function on the team.