Two Div. I basketball games take place and all that separates two of the participating teams are 43 miles and 343 spots in the national rankings.
Kansas University, ranked second in the nation, faces Iowa State, a 3 p.m. tipoff in Allen Fieldhouse. Centenary College of Louisiana, ranked 345 out of 345 in the Sagarin power ratings, visits UMKC, a 7:05 p.m. tipoff in the Swinney Recreation Center.
Baba Diallo knows both ends of the Div. I basketball world.
Diallo moved with his family to Lawrence from Dakar, Senegal, as a seventh-grader and it didn’t take him long to appreciate the importance of the Jayhawks to his new community. Diallo, who played football and basketball for Lawrence High, is a sophomore in his first year playing basketball for Centenary.
“We’re going in there expecting to win,” Diallo said of tonight’s game in Kansas City, Mo.
Nobody could use a victory more than the Gentlemen. They bring an 0-26 overall record and 0-14 record in the Summit League into tonight’s game. Diallo, a 6-foot-8, 205-pound forward, averages 2.1 points and 0.9 rebounds in 10.7 minutes per game, numbers his coach said would be far greater had he not suffered a shoulder injury that requires surgery that Diallo decided to delay until after the season.
Playing with a torn labrum, Diallo has had trouble shooting, hanging onto rebounds and blocking out the pain.
“He’s kept his head up and he continues to work hard in practice every day, taking charges,” Centenary coach Adam Walsh said.
Diallo and the rest of the Gentlemen have one foot in Div. I, one in Div. III, Centenary’s destination for next season. Only four players have scholarships because those recruited after the school made the decision to leave Div. I weren’t eligible for athletic scholarships.
“It’s been really fun competing against Div. I competition,” said Diallo, who spent his freshman season at Neosho Community College. “You always want the challenge of playing against the top competition.”
Diallo, majoring in Biology at Centary and hoping to become a physical therapist, said he had an offer to play for Div. I Alabama A&M, but chose the better academic school.
His family since has moved to St. Louis, but didn’t sell their Lawrence home, so Diallo spends his summers here.
“I spoke nothing but French when I came here,” Diallo said. “The communication factor was very challenging. I was accepted and made friends right away. It was pretty awesome. I consider Lawrence my home.”
Diallo thinks of two Lawrence voices when he plays through shoulder pain.
“I just think about (LHS football coach) Dirk Wedd screaming, ‘You’ve got to have the heart of a lion,’ and coach (Chris) Davis screaming, ‘You have to have pride.’”
Through all the pain and losing, Diallo has succeeded in doing so.