At age 16, Samuel Dingba left his native Cameroon, boarded a plane, and 28 hours later arrived at The Salisbury School in Connecticut. Dingba, now entering his senior year of high school, is a highly-regarded, athletic forward with a story that goes much deeper than the game of basketball.
At The Salisbury School, Sam Dingba is coached by Jeff Ruskin, who is entering his seventh year at the Connecticut boarding school and his 40th year of coaching high school basketball. Samuel arrived at the Connecticut boarding school with the assistance of former Georgetown Hoya Joe Tuouomou, who helps bring high school basketball players from Africa to the States.
“He’s one of seven kids,” Ruskin began. “In Cameroon, he lived in sparse dwellings. There was no running water, no bathroom, no refrigerator. His mother had one hotplate to cook on.”
Living in his native West Africa, Dingba played basketball regularly at his neighborhood court. However, according to Ruskin, those pick-up games were a bit different from what most are accustomed to. “Everyone would get to the court and the first thing they had to do was pick out the shoes. It is like a bowling alley here,” he explained. “Nobody, including Sam, had their own sneakers, so they would get to the court and pick out shoes from the pile that fit.”
At 16, Sam boarded that plane and eventually landed in New York, where he arrived with “one outfit on him and a duffle bag.” In that bag, Ruskin explained that he had “nothing but cargo pants and a gym shirt.” In addition, he knew all of two English phrases. “He arrived speaking no English but ‘ok’ and ‘no problem.’”
While his move to the States was aided by his basketball talent, Ruskin stated that “the most important thing to know about Sam is that basketball is the third best part of him. With Sam, it’s his character first, his schoolwork second, and his basketball third. And with how good he is at basketball, that’s saying something.”
To bring home the point of him being an even better person than basketball player, Ruskin explained that "Sam sends money that he makes doing yard work for local residents back to Cameroon to help pay for his older brother's education there."
An athletic 6’6 forward, Samuel Dingba plays the game of basketball with a motor that never stops. His calling card is his relentless pursuit of the ball, and that enthusiasm and drive are not limited to the basketball court. “His motor is non-stop and not just on the court. It applies to school too. He seeks out tutoring. He seeks out people to help. If he sees a cleaning lady on campus carrying a bag, he wants to run over and help her out. Teachers here are in love with the kid.”
On the AAU circuit, Samuel plays with the Westchester Hawks, and it’s there that he really burst onto the scene the summer before his junior year. College coaches see a relentless rebounder, a shot-blocking presence, and a muscular frame that plays much larger than his 6’6 height due to his length and his high-level athleticism.
Currently, there are roughly two dozen colleges that have extended offers Samuel’s way. Those schools can be broken down into two categories: The Ivy League and the rest. “They (Ivy League) are in a separate situation,” Ruskin began. “They need to see his SAT scores this year, and he’s taking them three times. Depending on that score, they’d probably want him to do a post-grad year, and he could maybe do that. Dartmouth, Yale, Penn, and Harvard are the four that have been most active with him there.”
Separate from the Ivy schools are a number of others. The “most involved” schools, according to Ruskin, are “Boston College, Boston University, Quinnipiac, St. Joe’s, and St. Bonaventure.” He went on, also mentioning Drexel, Seton Hall, Xavier, NC State, Siena, Duquesne, and others as being involved to varying degrees. He elaborated a bit, saying that “Atlantic 10 schools have been showing the most attention.”
On Tuesday, Sam and Ruskin visited St. Joe’s on an unofficial visit. Ruskin then explained that, by the end of the month, Samuel would cut his list. “We’ll get that list down to five by the end of the month, and Sam will take officials to those five schools at that point.”
Samuel Dingba’s story is about much more than basketball. As a result, what he is looking for in a college is about so much more than basketball as well. “He wants a good coaching staff and good guys on his team. He doesn’t care how many fans are at the game or anything like that. It’s all about a coaching staff he can trust and guys he wants to play with.”
At the end of the day, Samuel Dingba could end up in the Ivy League, the Atlantic 10, the Colonial, or the ACC. As important as where he will wind up is where he came from. Coming from a shack in Cameroon without running water molded him into the person, the student, and the basketball player that he is today. Coming from that environment, and having to work for everything, it is only logical that Sam Dingba plays the game of basketball the way that he does. On the court, in the classroom, and in life, Sam Dingba’s upbringing helped mold him into the man he is today.