It was his first time playing organized basketball since 2012. Sure, he had played rec league ball in middle school. And there was club ball, but he had never really been coached at a high level. All this, and Diante Bah never took a step on the floor for his high school’s freshman basketball team. He was even cut by the coach by the end of his first season.
Never mind that, he ended the year as a starter and as an important cog moving forward.
On the dusty, clay-red gravel track of Rancocas Valley Regional High School in Mount Holly, New Jersey, Bah received his first taste of the demands of high-level athletic competition. Bah credits his high school track coach Jeffrey Dzuranin with instilling important values that would translate into success in both athletics and life.
“Very stern but he always instilled hard work,” Bah said. “You work hard, you’re going to get what you deserve.”
Following his high school career as a hurdler, high-jumper and long-jumper, Bah competed in track and field for Rowan University during his freshman year. By the beginning of his sophomore year, his primary means for staying fit consisted of playing pickup basketball with friends back home and playing in the Rowan recreation center, where he met some familiar faces.
“It’s a story within itself,” said senior Ramon Wright. “I go to the [recreation center] a couple times and ball. I [saw] him but… I just didn’t think [anything] of it. Maybe he just didn’t want to play basketball or he had a job.”
Although Bah enjoyed the casual pickup games the rec center offered, and the somewhat laid-back approach of the club basketball circuit, he wanted more out of his waning years at Rowan University.
“A lot of my family and friends told me, ‘You’re tall, you’re an athlete, you have history with sports, soccer, track. Give it a shot,'” Bah said. “I wanted to go out… with a bang.”
Although the odds were stacked against him, Diante took his shot. Rowan basketball head coach Joe Crispin had told him the previous spring it would be an uphill battle, as his roster was already set entering the summer. Bah wouldn’t be deterred. He attended the tryouts and made the team, barely.
“When I [saw] him at tryouts, he looked a little rusty,” Wright said. “Like he hadn’t played. He made the team, by a thread. I worked out with him one time. He said, ‘Bro, this is my first time actually being taught… I learned everything I know from youtube videos.’ So as I watched him destroy the [New Jersey Athletic Conference] I’m like ‘Yo, where were you last year?’”
Despite the lack of experience and rusty workout, Bah showed the coaching staff enough raw ability to be awarded a roster spot. Early in the season, Bah was a role player: team cheerleader, hyping up his teammates from the sidelines while patiently awaiting an opportunity to show what he had to offer.
Bah’s biggest opportunity would come during the Sponaugle New Year’s Tournament on Dec. 30 against Franklin & Marshall College. During the game, Bah threw down an athletic dunk on a helpless opponent. Although Rowan fell in the contest, 68-63, the seeds had been sown and Bah would wind up as a primary starter down the stretch.
Bah played in 21 games, averaging 15.6 minutes while scoring 4.7 points per game and pulling down 4.4 rebounds. His biggest contributions came on the defensive end, with an impressive 1.4 blocks per game, good enough for second on the team, just behind all-around star Wright. Not too shabby for a guy who didn’t receive consistent minutes throughout the season. He recorded five blocks twice and at least three blocks on four other occasions. With a year of experience and a consistent role as a starter, those numbers can surely increase.
Bah couldn’t have pulled off such an incredible transformation by himself. Naturally, he had coaches, but coaches can’t be out there on the floor to replicate exactly what must be done in real-time. He needed help along the way. Senior big men Teirique Robinson and Wright took Bah under their wings, never shy about helping the inexperienced center learn the nuances of the position. On weekends, during morning workouts and after practice, they made themselves available in any way they could.
The Profs pulled off a season for the ages. Rattling off a 22-7 record, winning the New Jersey Athletic Conference for the first time since 1999 and reaching the second round of the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division III (NCAA) tournament. The pomp and circumstance of the championship victory. Cutting down the nets against the Gothic Nights of New Jersey City. Even the disappointing 87-76 loss to Nichols College in the NCAA second round. Diante Bah was a part of it all. If it all goes according to plan, Rowan will continue their winning ways.
“It was amazing,” Bah said. “I’ve watched so many March Madness games, where they won off game-winners. You know [wearing] the shirts and cutting the net, it was life-changing. I’ll never forget those moments. Coming back as the only returning senior, we need to go back-to-back. I need to be that leader and I need to be the guy that makes sure that we’re on that track next season.”
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