- Article appeared originally on the official FIBA U17 World Championship event website kaunas2012.fiba.com -

KAUNAS (heinnews) – Ilimane Diop’s path to basketball is very similar to that of one of Africa’s best-ever players. The Spanish star at the 2012 FIBA U17 World Championship started as a football goalkeeper before finally catching a glimpse of and falling in love with hoops.

In the tradition of Hakeem Olajuwon, Diop played football starting at age 8 in Senegal.

Two years later, the native of Medina Gouna watched his brother play basketball, and that was it.

“I watched him and enjoyed it. I played it more and more,” said Diop.

Basketball has taken Diop on quite a journey since then.

According to him, his parents moved to Tenerife, Spain “many years ago” for work. After a number of years there, they finally received a Spanish passport. And that allowed them to bring Diop to Spain – at age 14.

“After two years there I did my papers then the Spanish national team called me,” said Diop, who last summer was named to the All-Tournament Team at the FIBA Europe U16 Championship in which Spain took bronze.

And he has continued that strong play in Kaunas where he is Spain’s leading scorer, rebounder and shot-blocker. But Diop is not worried about his individual performance.

“So far, the important thing is that the team is winning. If I play well and the team doesn’t win, it’s bad. I’m just happy if the team wins,” said Diop, who had helped the team to a 3-2 record.

The 2.08m centre is playing in Spanish youth side UPV Alava from ACB side Caja Laboral.

Also at the club is Diop’s 19-year-old brother Mamadou Diop, who brought Ilimane to basketball back in Senegal and played for Spain at the FIBA U17 World Championship in Hamburg two years ago.

“It’s really good having my brother with me. He helps me a lot. We live together. If you live alone it’s so hard,” said Diop.

The current U17 big man is aware that he still needs plenty of work on his game.

“I need to work on my low post technique, and my one-on-one game,” he explained.

Spain coach Alejandro Martinez meanwhile says Diop’s biggest issue is his body.

“He has more weight than last summer. But he needs more weight – like 8 or 9 kilograms. He needs to work on his physicality and conditioning,” said Martinez.

Still the coach is impressed with the man in the middle of his defense.

“He has a good head – that is not normal for African players. Normally the head is a little odd. But he is also concentrating and really thinking,” said Martinez.

Diop is definitely at the beginning of a long journey in basketball.

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