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NORTH AUGUSTA, SC — N'Faly Dante was born in Mali and only began playing basketball in 2014. After being discovered by Malian talent scout Tidiane Drame at his camp called Malihope in June 2014, his life changed forever.
Now the 6-foot-11 Dante is a rising junior at Sunrise Christian Academy (KS) and ranked No. 10 in the class of 2020 by ESPN.com. A mobile, athletic big man who appears to fit the prototype of the new modern NBA big man, Dante is being recruited by the likes of Kentucky, Kansas, Oregon, LSU, TCU, and Oklahoma State. Coaches from all of those schools watched him this week at Peach Jam with his MoKan Elite team.
"When I step on the court, I’m going to show everything I have," Dante said recently.
Luke Barnwell, his coach at Sunrise Christian, says the sky is the limit for Dante.
"He's so mobile, he's so fluid and his skill level is probably a little underrated," Barnwell said. "You got to see a little bit today with some face-up jumpers and stuff, but with the way he moves and his feel for the game is pretty high."
Dante is still working on various aspects of his game even as he wows coaches.
"I’m working on my shot and my rebounding this summer," he said.
Dante appears to fit right into the mold of modern NBA big men who can get up and down the court and space the floor like Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Kristaps Porzingis. He has his own personal NBA connection in fellow Mali big man Cheick Diallo, his friend who now plays with the New Orleans Pelicans and this week put up 28 points and 13 rebounds in a Summer League game.
"Dante did a great job of guarding a guy on the perimeter," Barnwell said of his ability to play like modern NBA bigs. "He's got to be able to be fluid and guard on the perimeter and he's getting better at some of that stuff."
He added: "The bigger the stage, the better he is. He likes the big moments. He's a competitor; he competes."
Earlier this summer, Dante played in front of NBA scouts at the prestigious Pangos All-American Camp, giving them a glimpse into his future.
"It’s really good for me," he said then. "It’s a great opportunity to show what I’ve got."
He added: "It’s important for us to do that. When you play hard, you have the chance to go to the league. I’m doing everything I can to make it."
An impressive list of coaches watched Dante this week, including Michigan State's Tom Izzo, Michigan's John Beilein, Purdue's Matt Painter, TCU's Jamie Dixon, Oregon's Dana Altman, Oklahoma State's Mike Boynton, and assistants from Kentucky and Duke.
Big crowd here for 2020 N’Faly Dante, 2019 Malik Hall and 2019 Jaden McDaniels including Tom Izzo, John Beilein, Matt Painter, Fran McCaffery, Mike Hopkins, Jamie Dixon, Tony Barbee/Kenny Payne, Kurtis Townsend and Jon Scheyer. pic.twitter.com/N1kbGcIcei— Adam Zagoria (@AdamZagoria) July 12, 2018
Still, because he's only been in the U.S. for a few years, he's not very familiar with the college landscape.
"I don’t really know because when I first came to the United States, that was the first time I watched a college game," he said. "I can’t really say which schools I like and which I don’t at this point. I don’t have a favorite school yet."
Dante isn't overly concerned with his recruitment at this stage and has no visits planned at the moment. That will happen in due time.
"I don’t really know," he said. "A lot of people focus on that stuff, but I know that if I keep working the offers will come. I’m not worried about that. I’m worried about school and basketball, not offers."
Jacob Polacheck contributed to this piece.