By Jamie Rebner
Here in Montreal, we’re often overlooked when it comes to basketball. After all, we’re a hockey-crazed city where the ice comes first and everything else is secondary. Plus, still have to contend with not having an NBA team. But just because we’re toiling in the basketball shadows, doesn’t mean we’re not producing exceptional talent.
One glaring example of that can be found in blue-chip prospect Karim Mane, a 6’4″ combo guard for the Vanier Cheetahs, a AAA college team. Mane, a projected top pick in the 2020 NBA draft, came to Canada with his family from Senegal when he was seven years old. Having played soccer growing up, Mane only started playing basketball in his teens.
At first, it was only a leisure activity to keep up with his friends but things changed when he got to high school.
“Basketball started being serious in my life when I was 16 and went to Lucien Pagé [High School]. That’s where I started taking it seriously. That’s when I knew that I wanted to be good at basketball. I made sure I worked very hard and at the end of that year, I knew I had a chance to play D1 college.”
That work ethic is deeply ingrained in Mane’s character. Hearing about life in Senegal makes it easy to understand why.
“In Senegal, everybody is striving for something. Everybody is trying to be great at something. They know they have stuff to do and they’re going to do whatever they have to do to get it. My grandparents used to walk miles just to go to school when they were younger. My dad instilled that dedication in me too. He does whatever he has to do to be great at what he does so that’s always been my mentality. I bring that with me wherever I go; on the court, off the court, classroom, everything.”
Family is something that Karim deeply values and who he refers to whenever he is faced with life’s challenges.
“Every time I have tough times, my parents bring me back up. I have a tight circle; I don’t have a lot of people in my ears. My parents are the ones I lean on whenever something goes bad.”
Coming off an undefeated regular season and semi-finals loss in the National Championship tournament, Mane intends to lead his Cheetahs to a National title this season, his final one at Vanier. Always striving to improve his game, Mane made excellent use of the off-season to be in peak form for the upcoming season. One experience that helped prepare him was playing for Team Canada at the Under-19 FIBA World Cup in Greece in July.
“I remember when I came to Vanier, I made a list and that was one of my goals. It was great representing my country. I was proud to play for my country and against the best players in the world and showcase what I can do against them.”
Despite finishing second on the team in points per game, Mane knows he could have done more to help his team, which finished in eighth place out of sixteen.
“I’m never satisfied. I think I played alright but obviously, I could have played better. The main thing I got from that tournament was the importance of being prepared mentally and physically. When you get at that level, it’s going to take a lot out of your body and your body is your tool of work so you have to take care of it. Mentally, it’s always being in that state of mind where you can turn the switch on right away when it’s game time and turn it off after. It’s about being a pro and I think that’s the main thing I took from playing on Team Canada.”
Although Mane is from Montreal, far from a basketball hotbed, he doesn’t see that as being an insurmountable obstacle on his way to accomplishing his goal of being a first-round pick in the NBA draft.
“I’m never going to be satisfied so I am just trying to be one of the best players to ever play the game. I want to show the younger kids from Montreal that it doesn’t matter where you are or what you think you can or can’t do. If you want something, you’re going to do what it takes to get there and the rest is G-d’s plan. I want to show the young kids to keep striving for greatness.”
Mane uses the fact that he comes from an overlooked basketball landscape to propel him even further.
“For sure it motivated me because I had to earn everything. Everything that I got, I earned it. It made me work harder, be hungrier, and prove to everybody that I belong. One thing that I would tell the next generation is dream big. Coming out of Vanier, I had people telling me that making it to the NBA is not realistic. Same thing with the NCAA – that it’s going to be hard. Dream big. Don’t let anyone put limitations on you. Don’t let anybody tell you that you cannot do anything. Just know that if you believe in yourself and you put in the work, time, and effort, know that you will get there.”
Feature Image Photo Credit: Basketball Canada