When Samuel Dingba arrived in October from Cameroon, all he had were the clothes he was wearing and a gym bag with one extra t-shirt and pair of pants.
He didn’t look like much at the time.
Now, after only a few months at The Salisbury School (Conn.), Dingba has become one of the most intriguing 2013 prospects in New England.
“It’s night and day,” Salisbury head coach Jeff Ruskin said. “He’s a cult hero here already.”
Dingba came to the United States through the Basketball Without Borders program, and was recommended to Salisbury by various college coaches. Dingba was supposed to come with a friend, but his friend couldn’t get his visa cleared.
Ruskin said he made sure everyone knew that the decision to play at Salisbury was about more than basketball.
“We are not a basketball factory, and I told them that,” he said. “We made it clear to Sam that he had to be serious as a student.”
At Salisbury, Ruskin said everyone has pitched in to help Dingba get acclimated to life in the United States. Various alums helped with necessities and clothing, while other students’ parents – as well as Ruskin and his family – have taken him in for holidays.
In fact, on Dingba’s birthday, the students in his dorm bought him a pair of Nikes, because he didn’t have any sneakers.
Despite the location difference, Dingba is still able to talk to his family every weekend.
“It’s tough for him, he’s still a young kid,” Ruskin said. “And he may not go home for three or four years. And his family knows that.”
Getting used to life in the States is difficult enough – throw in the fact that Dingba was immediately playing in the always-tough New England prep scene, and it’s been quite a change for him.
However, he has handled it well and is developing into an interesting prospect.
“Sam is a warrior,” Ruskin said. “He’s raw offensively right now, because he’s only been playing basketball for three or four years. He has a nice turnaround jumper, he can run the floor.”
Defensively, his athleticism and leaping ability have helped him make an immediate impact.
Against Wilbraham & Monson, Dingba and freshman Chris McCullough helped keep former DePaul commit Braeden Anderson and Connecticut freshman Enosch Wolf in check.
“He’s a 6-5, 6-6 physical specimen,” Ruskin said. “He’s a mid-major kid right now because, at 6-5 or 6-6, to play high-major, you need high-level perimeter skills – and he doesn’t have that yet.
“He’s a power forward, but he can shoot. He keeps the ball up on his shot, and his hands are usually straight up. He shoots with just his wrists. Right now, he’s an athlete. He can take off from the free-throw line and dunk.”
Not surprisingly, with Dingba’s physical gifts and early signs of promise, schools are beginning to make Salisbury a regular stop on recruiting trips.
“Colleges are starting to show interest,” Ruskin said. “We’ve had Patriot League schools, ACC schools come. We’ve started getting emails, mail, preliminary recruiting stuff. A lot of people are waiting to see . . . some of the schools around here that have heard of him, Fairfield, Marist, some of the local Atlantic-10 schools.”
Dingba played tennis back in Cameroon, and has expressed interest in playing it during the spring. Even more interestingly, he is intrigued by the possibility of playing football in the fall – that’s still up in the air, though.
Another aspect still undecided is what Dingba will do during the spring and summer travel-team and camp circuits.
“I might keep him for summer school, might get him to a few camps,” Ruskin said. “We’re not sure yet.”
Right now, Ruskin is just looking to keep Dingba focused on his academics and blossoming basketball career.
“I don’t want him to get with the wrong group,” he said. “It’s tough to keep everything in perspective, but he wants to go to the NBA.”
If Dingba keeps developing at such a rapid rate, that goal might not seem so far off after all.