BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — ¬As a native of Senegal, WKU forward Moustapha Diagne felt a special connection to the local children of Belize during his recent trip to the country with the Sports Reach sports ministry program.
“Life is different over there,” said Diagne, a 6-foot-9 rising redshirt junior. “I can relate myself, too. That’s the same type of environment I grew up with. So to get a chance to go there and see those kids, visit their house or their schools, it was definitely a lifetime experience for me.”
Diagne and his Hilltopper teammate, Jared Savage, spent 10 days in Belize in May as part of a cultural exchange basketball trip through Sports Reach.
Previous WKU players who’ve traveled abroad with Sports Reach include Justin Johnson, Nigel Snipes, T.J. Price, George Fant, A.J. Slaughter and Steffphon Pettigrew.
In addition to going 6-0 in basketball games against local competition, the participants had the chance to lead basketball clinics for local children, as well as visit children’s homes and churches. The players also experienced some of the local culture by exploring Mayan ruins, snorkeling and completing other activities.
“It just made me realize how bad some people in the world really have it,” said Savage, a 6-5 rising redshirt junior guard/wing. “In the United States, it’s pretty nice to be over here, but down there, it’s rough in some parts. That kind of caught me by surprise. … The kids over there really love the game. They play it from sun up to sun down. That’s all they do. It’s 90 degrees outside, and they’re playing all day long.”
Savage and Diagne found success in their six wins against teams from the Belize National Elite Basketball League, along with a few local all-star teams from the across the country.
Savage averaged 14.4 points per game, four rebounds, 3.4 steals and two assists. Diagne averaged nine points, eight rebounds and 1.3 blocks.
The trip was another chance for the two Hilltoppers to bond after spending plenty of time together during the 2017-18 season. Until Diagne was cleared by the NCAA in January, they worked out together frequently while Savage sat out following his transfer from Austin Peay.
Savage, a Bowling Green native, said he became a “student of the game” while sitting out last season.
“Believe it or not, it went pretty quick for me,” he said. “I worked out a lot. Time went quick, but I’m ready to be on the court now. … I’m taking more of a role of a leader now. I’m on the court with my guys now, so I’m going to try to be a leader.”
Diagne also wants to embrace a leadership role next season. Forced to play catch-up in 2017-18 after becoming eligible in the second semester, he said he’s excited to be in the mix from the start as a junior.
“I’m working on everything,” he said. “I’m working on my game, and I have to take my chances. Whatever I get, I’m going for all of it. I’m expecting myself to do big things, so I’m excited for it.”
Diagne and Savage both traveled with the Hilltoppers last August on the team’s foreign tour trip to Costa Rica. They had some similar experiences on that journey to what they did in Belize, playing games, visiting children’s home and soaking up the culture.
As Savage said, “I can’t believe everywhere basketball has taken me.”
“It’s always beautiful to get to travel, but even more beautiful when you get the chance to meet people and experience how they live and share stories with them,” Diagne said.