Samba Kane: From Senegal to Illini by Way of Florida

Samba Kane

Every international young baller comes to the States with a pretty clear idea in mind: bomb high school competition, get to play at the highest possible NCAA level and get a chance to break the NBA barrier being drafted as early as possible. That’s quite a challenge though, and not everyone can make it happen as easily as I’ve written it down.

Good for Samba Kane, rising from the core of Africa, he looks as poised as anyone to break the mold and keep up his meteoric career. I had the chance to speak to the Senegal-born prospect.

Samba Kane on his roots:

“I was playing in an academy in Senegal called Flying Star. One day our coach told us that American recruiters would come to detect players and give them the opportunity to continue their studies in the United States. By the grace of God I was one of the players they selected.”

And his arrival at the States:

“I got to USA with [the idea of playing at the highest possible level in mind]. My expectations are simple: listen to the coaches and get better everyday. Of course I wanna play at the highest level.”

Not long ago –I’m talking weeks, even days–, Samba Kane was almost a complete unknown in the hoops recruiting scope. You could only find his name in ESPN rankings and not so highly rated, to be honest. Fast forward a couple of weeks to the present day and not only is Kane ranked in multiple recruiting sites, he’s simply going up and up the boards. It all came down to Illini offering the African center a scholarship at the start of March in which turned into an instant love story. Samba had no doubt in his mind and committed to play for the Fighting Illini in no time.

On his recruiting process:

“My recruitment was a bit slow. Yes, I [was] getting in touch with some colleges. Yes, there [was] some colleges that [were] actively recruiting me; like Colorado and Arkansas was here to see me during the season and I had interest from New Mexico and Wichita.”

And how he took the most of his chances:

“[Illinois had] expressed their need for big. Coach O was the first one who came to see me work. He loved what he saw [so] he let me know that he was going to follow me during the playoffs but unfortunately we lost during the regional semi final and about two weeks after that coach Coleman came to Florida Prep [to] watch me practice and he offered me. To be honest, no, I didn’t expect high D1 offers, but I thought it would happen during AAU.”

“When a good opportunity presents itself you have to grab it. A lot of great D1 colleges followed me but had just show interest. Illinois recognized my talent and offered me, that’s why I didn’t hesitated. I saw that it is a good program in reconstruction which helped a lot of young people to reach their dream of playing at the top level [so] I told myself ‘why not?'”

This kid is no joke. Expected to be part of the 2019 class, he reclassified for 2018 and will be part of the Illini’s roster next season. Already 7-foot-1 and carrying 205 pounds of mass, Kane started playing ball not long ago but has had a fast and steady adaptation to the game and his low-key profile is the only thing that has kept him from gathering more up-level offers (Rutgers and UMass, among other low-level colleges, extended him scholarships earlier this season). Now that he’s on his way to the NCAA courts, his name is starting to resonate. 247Sports have Kane ranked as a 3-star prospect on the national board. Rivals mimic that rating. ESPN, on the other hand, is higher and higher on his potential by the day and have him as a 4-star recruit with an 83 grade and the #14-best center in the nation. No slouch.

On his future on the NCAA:

“If everything goes as planned I would be [playing for Illinois in 2018]. I plan to gain weight, develop my game. If I add more weight and keep working on my post play I see myself as a pure center. My role is going to be try to fill the gap the team have [inside]: take the rebounds, block shots… I can’t promise anything about the team record but we will do our best to bring the team to the top of the board.”

In less than two weeks, Samba Kane has gone from unranked to the #14-best center in the nation. And that is only the start.

For his age, Kane has a great frame and is plenty developed physically already. He fits the current idea of the multi-task, do-it-all big man and is able to hit it from the inside and stretch the court while racking up points from outside of the paint, most definitely something to praise about his game. And don’t get the idea of him being a mastodon, cause he’s not. He’s lean, possesses the moves and is agile as no one. Illinois lack big men, and Kane is more than just that. Don’t be surprised if he cracks the starting five from the get-go come fall.

Obviously, betting on an international prospect such as Samba is always a risk and a true hit-or-miss, but it looks like the upside of the move vastly outweighs the potential cons. Illinois has not sniffed the NCAA Tournament since 2013. In fact, the Fighting Illini have not been ranked in any AP pool for three seasons and have just finished the 2018 season with a paltry 4-14 in-conference record. Long gone are the days of Mike Tisdale and Meyers Leonard leading Illinois’ frontcourt.

On his long-term expectations and future: 

“I want to develop and have a multiple year career at Illinois. Like I said, I’m still learning the game and have a lot to catch up.”

Good for the Fighting Illini, they were able to land Africa’s next big man on Kane. And he looks like a day-one impact guy. Definitely, keep an eye on this more-than-raw international talent.

Antonio on Twitter


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