'Elevate': From Africa To Prep School Hoops

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Assane Sene, one of the subjects of the film "Elevate," is currently a senior at the University of Virginia. (AP)
Assane Sene, one of the subjects of the film "Elevate," is currently a senior at the University of Virginia. (AP)

When it came out last year, the documentary, Elevate, impressed audiences at several prestigious film festivals. Elevate follows the stories of several young men from Senegal who have in common the ability to play basketball and the desire to play it in the United States. The director, Anne Buford, joined Bill Littlefield to discuss the film.

One of the central figures of the film is Amadou Gallo Fall, who founded an organization called SEEDS Academy in Senegal. Buford told us how the organization operates, and how she learned about it.

"Amadou was discovered by a Peace Corp worker when he was playing in Tunisia in the late 80s," she said, "and the man arranged for him to come to the University of (the) District (of) Columbia in Washington D.C., and he graduated four years later magna cum laude. In the meantime, he had started to help boys have the same opportunity. I met him through my older brother, R.C. Buford, who is the General Manager of the San Antonio Spurs."

Assane, one of the players whose progress the film follows, goes directly from Senegal to South Kent Academy in Connecticut. In the film he talks about the challenges he faces. Among the things Assane must learn is how to tie a necktie, as he's required to wear one at South Kent. But Buford said there were other challenges that he faced.

"Just being in a classroom and having everyone lecture to you all day in English," Buford said.  "American history is really hard for them, and graduating from high school in America, you have to take American history."

While the documentary was being filmed, Assane injured his knee.  His recovery and return to the court was a relief for Buford.

"As a filmmaker you're there to cover the kids," Buford said.  "But at the same time, they're kids, and I had become very attached to them, and walking that line was very hard."

The players followed in the film are told that they will be paving the way for other young men from Senegal to play basketball and get educated in the United States. Buford says that is very much the case.

"SEEDS alumni are now at the University of Cincinnati, Syracuse University, Louisville, Alabama, Siena, Oregon State - that's pretty amazing for a group of 25 who are now all playing Division I basketball."

This segment aired on February 11, 2012.


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