Sitapha Savane considered attending several colleges renowned
for their academics before choosing to attend the U.S. Naval
Academy, in the fall of 1996. "I figured an Ivy League school
could give me knowledge, but it might not teach me about being a
leader," Savane says. "If you want to be a leader, the best
thing to do is be around people who are leaders."
Through Sunday, Savane, a 6'8" junior forward, led the Patriot
League in field goal shooting (56.5%) and rebounding (8.4 per
game), but the leadership position he aspires to is of a
different sort: the presidency of his native Senegal. This is no
pipe dream. Sitapha's father, Landing, is vice president of
Senegal's parliament and a leading candidate for president in
2000. "They don't have opinion polls in Senegal, but I would say
there's a high probability he will be president," Sitapha says.
"People seem fed up with the government right now."
From watching his father, Sitapha knows firsthand that in
politics, just as in basketball, success doesn't come without
sacrifice or risk. Landing is a longtime leader of one of
Senegal's major opposition parties and has been arrested twice,
including once as he sat at the dinner table with Sitapha, then
15, watching. Sitapha blossomed as a basketball player while
finishing up his secondary education at the United Nations
International School in New York City, where his mother,
Marie-Angelique, was working as the director of the Africa
division of the United Nations Population Fund. Through Sunday,
Savane, a low-post scoring threat, had started nine of Navy's
last 10 games and was second among the Midshipmen in scoring,
with an average of 13.2 points per game. More important, his
work on the boards had been critical in helping Navy (16-5
overall and a second-place 5-2 in the Patriot League) to an 11.8
average rebounding margin, the best in the nation.
One of 40 foreign students at the Academy (only 10 a year
receive appointments), Savane had an especially rough freshman
year in Annapolis. Not only did he have to put up with the
rigors of plebe year, but he also spent the basketball season
playing for the jayvee because the coaches felt it would be
better for his development. "I really doubted myself," he says,
"but I figured you can either cry about it and transfer or work
hard and get better. So that's what I did."
February 8, 1999
It's a lesson that will serve him well in his quest to be an
officer and a president. If you want to be a leader in this
world, you've got to know how to rebound.