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From Senegal to Toronto, Ryerson Rams recruit Tanor Ngom in pursuit of collegiate glory

Ryerson Rams basketball player Tanor Ngom of Senegal dunks at the Mattamy Athletic Centre in Toronto on Monday.

Mark Blinch/The Globe and Mail

Considering he only has been playing basketball a short time, Tanor Ngom took a moment to ponder when asked what aspect of his game he needs to develop.

"I just started basketball about three years ago, so I think my whole game needs development," the 19-year-old said. "But probably gaining some size if I want to play at the five [centre] position.

"So I think that's what I need to do right now, gain some height – some size I mean."

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As Ngom towers over most everybody he ever meets, standing at 7 foot 2 in his stocking feet, it was rather amusing hearing him misspeak as he did. Although he obviously needs to add a few more pounds on his slender 200-pound frame, the last thing this kid needs is to sprout a couple of more inches.

Ngom is the prized new recruit of Toronto's Ryerson University Rams, plucked all the way from the African country of Senegal to come to Canada to further both his education and basketball career at the Toronto institution.

While Ryerson coach Roy Rana is doing his best to down play the move – "We're just trying to help a young man change his life," he says – if it all pans out, Ngom could help shift the balance of power in U Sports men's basketball from Carleton to Ryerson.

While the Ravens are still at the pinnacle when it comes to Canadian men's university basketball supremacy, having won 13 of the past 15 national titles, including the past seven in a row, the Rams under Rana are nipping at their heels.

The Rams, who play in the same regular-season conference as Ottawa, have won the past two Ontario titles only to fall short where it really counts – at the national playdowns. Last March, Carleton defeated Ryerson in the national championship final.

Should Ngom develop his basketball skills the way Rana hopes, having a seven-plus-footer on the floor who can contribute could go a long way toward securing national bragging rights.

"First-round pick, I'm not sure," Rana said, when asked about Ngom's NBA chances. "But certainly he is an NBA prospect, there's not much question about that. You just don't have, globally, that many guys his size that are as mobile as he is. He's pretty skilled.

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"He can shoot the ball, he can run. He can move and at 7 [foot] 2 with a great wingspan, it's just a matter of time and how he develops. People know who he is in the league. Now it's how far can we take him."

Ngom said making the NBA is a goal of his.

"Every basketball player wants to make it to the NBA," he said during an interview on Monday in Rana's office at Ryerson. "But all you can do is go as hard as you can in practice, do as good as you can in games and then see where the game takes you."

Masai Ujiri, the Nigerian-born Toronto Raptors president, encountered Ngom at the Giants of Africa initiative he founded to support the growth of basketball in Africa.

While the NBA frowns on its executives commenting personally on the merits of would-be NBA prospects, Ujiri said it should not come as a surprise when young players such as Ngom search out Canada to grow their game.

"I think it has a lot to do with the exposure of the Canadian game, the growth of Canadians who are playing prominent basketball," Ujiri said. "Kids look at that. It should be a good fit and should be a good fit for more African kids to have this kind of opportunity."

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Ngom's journey to Canada began in May when Rana led a group of Ryerson players to Dakar where they were involved in a variety of community endeavours, most of it basketball-related.

Rana said he wasn't really in recruiting mode when he met Ngor at one of the basketball camps; the player was injured and not able to participate.

"And when we got down there, we were introduced to Tanor and there was some talk about him possibly wanting to go on an educational experience," Rana said. "Nothing too concrete. We certainly expressed our interest in exploring that. We got a chance to meet his family, his father, and that was the start of the conversations."

The conversations led to the Ngom family eventually starting the process to obtain a visa so their son could attend school in Canada, and the paperwork was only just completed. Ngom landed in Toronto on Thursday and held his first workouts with the team over the weekend.

Rana said Ngom had several other options he could have pursued, including a couple of NCAA institutions that were sniffing around.

But in the end, he chose Ryerson.

"I had a couple of options that I don't really know about because I let my dad take care of that stuff," Ngom said. "But when coach Rana came to Senegal and I talked to him, and I researched everything he did, it was a no-brainer for me."

Video: Coach Roy Rana takes reins of Canada men's basketball team for AmeriCup (The Canadian Press)
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