Dedicated Diouf’s journey’s just begun for Lake Forest Academy

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Khadidiatou “Dija” Diouf, a 6-foot-3 junior center on the Lake Forest Academy girls basketball team, never takes a practice or a game off.

She has too much respect for the opportunity basketball has provided her.

“She’s almost in love with the sport,” junior teammate Margaux Boles said. “She’s so dedicated.”

Dedicated enough to travel around the world – from Senegal – to play for and attend school at Lake Forest Academy (8-6). Diouf, who goes by Dija, is averaging nearly a double-double (12 points, nine rebounds). Although she is still learning the game, her athleticism, height, versatility and potential have her on the radar of a number of Division I schools.

“She’s a force, and having her in the middle of the floor takes a lot of pressure off our perimeter players,” coach Chris Tennyson said. “In fact, if we had another pure post player we could play her on the perimeter as she’s really good at slashing to the basket.”

Diouf is at Lake Forest Academy thanks in part to the Sports For Education and Development in Senegal (SEEDS) program. A couple of boys were introduced to Lake Forest Academy through SEEDS, but Diouf is the first girl to make the journey to Illinois. The SEEDS Foundation’s Grow the Game Campaign fosters a cultural exchange program that offer opportunities for Senegalese teenagers to play in the United States.

Leaving Dakar was not an easy decision for Diouf, but it was too promising of an opportunity to pass up.

“My parents were a little sacred, but they believed in me and let me take the chance to come here,” said Diouf, who travels home once a year and stays in contact with her family via Skype.

Diouf, also a rising star in volleyball, knows she made the right decision to attend Lake Forest Academy. In her second year in the United States, her personality is starting to shine through and she is quite popular with her teammates.

“It was pretty hard last year, but people have helped me out a lot,” she said. “My grades are pretty good and I [enjoy] socializing with people.”

Added Tennyson: “Being at Lake Forest Academy has opened her up so much. She’s gained a lot of confidence.”

Diouf has learned a lot about American culture from her teammates. In turn, they have learned plenty from her.

“She came over to my house for the Super Bowl and she really enjoyed that,” Boles said. “It’s nice that you can talk with her about anything and she can give you advice.”

Diouf’s goal is to play college basketball but her ambition does not end with hoops. She aspires to go to medical school and one of her dreams is to return to Senegal and open an orphanage.

“So many children are suffering and I would love to help them,” she said.

On and off the court, it is clear her journey is just beginning.

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