Amadou Gallo Fall, the Director of Scouting for the Dallas Mavericks, knows first-hand what it's like to be a promising, young athlete in Africa. A native of Senegal, Fall was serendipitously discovered by a member of the Peace Corps, and eventually received a basketball scholarship in the U.S. After graduating magna cum laude from the University of District of Columbia with a BS in biology, Fall went on to work for the Senegalese Basketball Federation. The squad he assembled won the 1997 African Championship and then went on to participate in the 1998 World Championship. Fall, who will serve as the director of the Africa 100 Camp in South Africa, talked to NBA.com about what he hopes the camp can teach the young hoopsters, on and off the court. Fall was interviewed by phone in his native Senegal after attending the African Championships in Alexandria, Egypt.
What is it like being a young athlete in Africa?
It's now a time of change, and things have changed in a short amount of time. I didn't have the opportunities these young, aspiring players have. I started playing basketball not that long ago, but I couldn't dream of the NBA. I really stumbled upon the opportunity to come to the U.S. on a basketball scholarship in 1989. I didn't even dream about (playing professionally or in college) because they were so unrealistic and unattainable. I played sports for recreational purposes, without hoping anything would come from it. In soccer, it was possible, but not in basketball. Some basketball players went to France to play, but you had to be really, really good to do it. And unless you were a serious student, sports and education didn't mix.
How were you discovered?
Fall was discovered by a member of the Peace Corps, and went on to play basketball at UDC.
I was in Tunisia, in North Africa, in school, playing for a club there. One of the gentlemen at the camp was with the Peace Corps -- he was also involved in Sports America -- and he was sent to do clinics in Tunisia. After watching me play, he said, 'You have an opportunity to play in the states.' I thought he was messing with me. I mean, I'm 6-8, but I'd only seen the Lakers and Celtics on TV -- Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. I thought, "there's no way I can play with those guys." I didn't know that the universities were essentially the minor leagues in the U.S. He stayed in touch with me after the camp, sent me letters, and eventually found a school (University of District of Columbia) for me.
As a basketball player, who did you look up to?
I didn't start playing until I was 17, so, actually, I looked up to (Georgetown coach) John Thompson. We played them every year in D.C., and I got to know him and looked up to everything he stood for: leadership and really encouraging youngsters to be more than just athletes. A lot of stuff started with him. He heard I was a good student; I had a 4.0 most of my college career. And he was also good friends with my coach at UDC.
Is there already excitement in Africa about the Africa 100 Camp?
A lot of excitement. When I was in Alexandria (Egypt), the top African countries were competing for one spot in the Olympics. With the Olympics being such a big deal, and all of Africa getting just one spot in them, that's why everyone was so excited about the NBA coming. Hopefully it'll raise awareness that Africa -- with some help, structure and organization -- could be a force in international basketball. That's one of the reasons why we got involved with this. NBA coaches and scouts and players coming to the continent is a big deal.
What else does the camp hope to provide besides basketball instruction?
We've got goodwill initiatives underway. There are education programs tied into the camp. Read to Achieve will take place here. Health and AIDS awareness ... issues that are plaguing the country and the continent. From a basketball standpoint, this is impressive. Now it's up to us to make sure once the camp is over, we build on it. The outside perception is there's lots of hopelessness and nothingness here. We need to let people know that there are some great things and beautiful places to visit.
How good is the talent in Africa?
The talent pool is largely untapped. For different reasons, it's been overlooked. Part of it is understandable, because access is difficult; it's not like going to Europe or Asia. But you do have unbelievable talent here that's raw and needs to be molded. In spite of the lack of infrastructure, you have success stories already. If there was a way to work with these kids at an early age, you'd be amazed with what you see. But then it's very easy to get discouraged, because the conditions are so bad.
How much better will the conditions be for those attending the camp?
The kids will be coming from close to 20 different countries. In some of these countries, there may not even be an indoor gym. Senegal is one of the premier countries in terms of basketball talent, and there is only one indoor gym in the whole country. All of these kids will be well clothed and play in good facilities, so hopefully when they experience that side of things they'll get motivated when they go back to their own countries, to build infrastructures and create better conditions. Not just in basketball, but in their whole life.
Do you hope to alter some of the outside perceptions of Africa?
People are so quick to expand and report on all of the calamities here. Africa, a lot of the time, is synonymous with misery and AIDS and the killings in Rwanda. There's never anything good coming out of here. This is something good. If people are able to make the most of this, hopefully it will change the perceptions of Africa. For instance, I'm from Senegal. It's a beautiful country. We're on the Atlantic Ocean. We have beautiful beaches. This is a great opportunity for a cross-cultural exchange. That's why this camp is so unbelievably important, so we're working very hard to make everything go smoothly.
Are there any prospects who are ready to make the leap to the NBA at this camp?
Having kids that are ready for the NBA really isn't the goal. It's far-fetched to think this would happen. The goal is to come in and give a helping hand. These kids will be representing their countries, so after the camp they'll go back to their friends and tell them what they saw and share the motivations that we hope to instill in them: go to school, be a good student, represent your community well, improve your community. As far as raw talent goes, size will be the most intriguing factor for most who watch them. But, again, (recruiting) isn't the ultimate goal. It's more of an overall goodwill and instruction, and to lay the foundations for years to come. I have no doubt that great players will come from this camp in time, however. But more importantly, we want to produce good kids.
What do you want people to know about your homeland and your home continent that they might not already know?
There is a lot of energy here. You can feel something special, but you can't put a finger on it. Every time I come here, I get more excited by what I see. Especially by this young generation. With a little bit of help, they can do so much. I think it's important for people to realize that this is a part of the world that is ready for growth. With the youth population here, they have to have some market value at some level. I hope we use the global community to help develop basic infrastructures and resources here. I hope the resources here aren't exploited, however. Use the resources, but leave something here. Come find players, but build courts. Instruct the local coaches.
Everything is not as miserable as you see on TV. Life is difficult here for the most part, but there are a lot of very good things here.
--Randy Kim, NBA.com