The NBA announced Thursday that it has awarded scholarships to two young African female athletes to attend the SEED Academy, a multidisciplinary boarding school in Senegal. The scholarship is a continuation of the partnership between the league and the SEED (Sports for Education and Economic Development) Project organization.
The two young women, Aminata Tal, who is from Senegal, and Sira Thienou of Mali, are the first African female recipients of the scholarship, which is provided by the NBA Academy Women’s Program, a series of developmental camps for top female basketball prospects under the umbrella of the league’s elite international training centers, the NBA Academy.
The NBA and SEED Project created the scholarship to further their joint missions of introducing non-Americans, particularly Africans, to basketball and developing future players through training and education.
Both Tal, 18, and Thienou, 16, were participants in the 2019 edition of the women’s camp held in Saly, Senegal, and were selected from a crop of approximately 60 female participants to attend the SEED Academy.
“They [Tal and Thienou] have pointed out very well, themselves, that environment is everything,” said Astou Ndiaye, who played in the WNBA from 1999 to 2007 and is the lead and development women’s coach for NBA Academy Africa. “Their previous environment … wouldn’t lead, necessarily, to meeting their goals.
“Being some of the top prospects on the continent that had participated in the program, we thought giving them this opportunity would be helpful in helping them focus on continuing on to the next level. It was definitely strategic, the two choices.”
As a part of the scholarship, the pair will be full-time students at the SEED Academy in Thiès, a coastal city located 35 miles west of Dakar, Senegal, where they will receive both basketball and academic training, including English as a second language instruction. (Tal and Thienou both spoke to The Undefeated through a translator.)
Tal and Thienou moved to the academy last month and have begun classes and training, which, too, have been impacted by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Both said they are very excited to be able to attend the school and represent their countries at the same time.
“It’s something that a lot of people want to have,” Tal said, adding that all she does is eat (really well, she clarified), study and play basketball.
Much like young basketball prospects in America, the two have goals of moving to America after the SEED Academy to attend college and later play in the WNBA. Also much like young people in America, their favorite teams are the Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors. As for players, Tal likes LeBron James and Hall of Famer Cynthia Cooper-Dyke, and Thienou prefers Dwyane Wade and Nneka Ogwumike.
“It doesn’t matter if he’s retired,” she said.
Twenty former NBA Academy Women’s Program participants – the program has also held camps in China, India and Mexico – have gone on to play at NCAA Division I programs, with one, Han Xu of China, being drafted to the WNBA (14th overall in 2019 to the New York Liberty). Senegalese player Aicha Ndour and Egypt’s Jana Abdullah played at Rutgers and Cincinnati, respectively.
The scholarships are but another step in the NBA’s outreach in Africa. The league’s presence began in 2003 with the first Basketball Without Borders camp. Since then, the NBA has opened offices in South Africa and the aforementioned NBA Academy Africa in Senegal, and Jr. NBA has held programming in 15 countries, including Cameroon, Republic of Congo and Rwanda. The inaugural Basketball Africa League season will debut sometime in 2021. The league’s investment in the continent paid dividends last month when eight players of Nigerian origin were selected in the 2020 NBA draft.