Could Villanova’s signature moment come back to haunt the Wildcats?
’Nova’s astounding buzzer beater over North Carolina in the 2016 NCAA national championship game captivated Alassane (Al) Amadou, then a Strayer Middle School student and basketball novice.
“I watched that whole game live with my dad and my uncle. (Kris) Jenkins hit the game-winner and I thought it was so sick. It was a blessing I got to see that because if it wasn’t for that game I wouldn’t have been so committed to basketball,” remembered Amadou, now a senior at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy.
If Amadou misses that game, does he become hooked on basketball? And if he doesn’t get hooked on basketball, does he blossom into the 6-foot-9 talent – the one ESPN ranked second in his class in Pennsylvania – who verbaled to Marquette in August?
And who does Villanova battle twice a year in Big East play? Marquette. In fairness, ’Nova wouldn’t trade that win for anything. But the “what ifs” are fun.
“Al is more of a guard than a big guy,” explained SCH head coach Julian McFadden. “He can shoot the 3. He is extremely athletic. It’s tough for teams to find someone who can guard him, specifically in high school where plenty of teams’ tallest guy is not as quick as Al.
“Defensively, his instincts are so good and that’s where he makes his mark the most,” McFadden continued. “He averaged almost four blocks a game as a junior. He is really good at timing and knowing when to jump to block shots so he can keep himself out of foul trouble.”
Marquette head coach Shaka Smart won conference tournaments at both VCU and Texas, but his relationship building won Amadou. “His caring about me, asking about my mom and how she is doing. He came to a lot of my games,” shared Amadou, who chose the Golden Eagles over Miami, Georgia Tech, St. John’s and San Diego.
“We talked about how he could be patient with me. I know I will make mistakes but I want to be able to play through those mistakes,” Amadou continued. “He said he would let me do that as long as I work hard. I’ll do anything for that coach as long as I have a good relationship with him.”
Amadou’s path to blue chip recruit is chockablock with twists and detours. He played his freshman season at Quakertown, then transferred to Bishop McDevitt.
McDevitt’s upset over powerhouse Roman Catholic served as Amadou’s coming out party in his sophomore season. He hit two key 3 pointers and blocked future Detroit Piston Jalen Duren’s shot. “I picked up my first offer – from Drexel – after that game and after that, I thought ‘I really could do this,’” Amadou said. “I knew I could take basketball somewhere and that’s where I kept pushing it and grinding.”
McDevitt closed in June 2021. Amadou enrolled in Springside Chestnut Hill Academy and reclassified as a junior. SCH “was about me learning how to lead a team. It was a great place academically,” explained Amadou. “It put me in a good place to get ready for college.”
“His leadership ability took a big step in his junior year,” McFadden said. “He was always a really infectious kid that you could easily learn to love, but I think that is really different from coming to a team where now you’re the leader, the best player and a young person called upon to help orchestrate great moments for your team.”
“Leadership was a new skill,” Amadou continued. “At McDevitt, I was a big piece, but more of a role player. This was a huge change. It’s crazy how much my body language has changed and my presence feels different.”
Amadou cited two specific losses – at Malvern Prep and at Haverford – where he admitted he didn’t play well. “I learned that there are other things I could do on the floor to support my team: by being a good teammate and keep encouraging,” he said. “After that, I tried to lead by example.”
Transitioning from “never picked up a basketball” to “elite recruit and leader at new school” in six years is asking a lot of most prepsters. Amadou is no ordinary prepster. He is the son of two immigrants – mom from the Ivory Coast and dad from Mali. For a year and a half, young Amadou lived in Africa.
“I actually forgot how to speak English,” he grinned. “Everyone spoke French.”
But there was nothing funny about the two weeks in the spring of 2019, when Amadou lost both his father and uncle. “I was broken, obviously, for so long. I had to understand that my dad wasn’t going to be there for things but I think it made me super strong,” Amadou said. “Not a lot of things can faze me anymore after that.”
“He has a ‘bring people together’-ness, I think, that is based around a lot of the experiences that he has been through,” McFadden reflected. “He’s a kid who really understands himself. I think his experiences have only shaped him into more of a lovable young man. More of a person who shows compassion and has empathy.”
“Growing up: everything was always tough and that’s how I got used to living. It helped with my mentality and to be a tough kid,” Amadou shared. “My dad is a huge part of my personality. He was so nice to people. I always strived to be like my dad.
“And watching my mom work so hard at two jobs,” Amadou continued. “That’s so inspiring to me to work even harder, because I don’t want her to work that hard all of the time.”
This winter, there are things to pursue at SCH. Amadou wants to win championships. He also would like to kick his tendinitis for good while getting bigger and stronger.
“I want to be ready for college and once I’m there, I want to excel,” he concluded. Marquette is a big jump, but as Amadou brings his package of offense, defense, mom’s work ethic and dad’s relationship building, it is unwise to bet against him.
Updated Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022 at 12:50 p.m.