Sitapha Savane considered attending several colleges renowned for their academics before choosing to attend the U.S. Naval Academy, in the fall of 1996. "I figured an Ivy League school could give me knowledge, but it might not teach me about being a leader," Savane says. "If you want to be a leader, the best thing to do is be around people who are leaders."
Through Sunday, Savane, a 6'8" junior forward, led the Patriot League in field goal shooting (56.5%) and rebounding (8.4 per game), but the leadership position he aspires to is of a different sort: the presidency of his native Senegal. This is no pipe dream. Sitapha's father, Landing, is vice president of Senegal's parliament and a leading candidate for president in 2000. "They don't have opinion polls in Senegal, but I would say there's a high probability he will be president," Sitapha says. "People seem fed up with the government right now."
From watching his father, Sitapha knows firsthand that in politics, just as in basketball, success doesn't come without sacrifice or risk. Landing is a longtime leader of one of Senegal's major opposition parties and has been arrested twice, including once as he sat at the dinner table with Sitapha, then 15, watching. Sitapha blossomed as a basketball player while finishing up his secondary education at the United Nations International School in New York City, where his mother, Marie-Angelique, was working as the director of the Africa division of the United Nations Population Fund. Through Sunday, Savane, a low-post scoring threat, had started nine of Navy's last 10 games and was second among the Midshipmen in scoring, with an average of 13.2 points per game. More important, his work on the boards had been critical in helping Navy (16-5 overall and a second-place 5-2 in the Patriot League) to an 11.8 average rebounding margin, the best in the nation.
One of 40 foreign students at the Academy (only 10 a year receive appointments), Savane had an especially rough freshman year in Annapolis. Not only did he have to put up with the rigors of plebe year, but he also spent the basketball season playing for the jayvee because the coaches felt it would be better for his development. "I really doubted myself," he says, "but I figured you can either cry about it and transfer or work hard and get better. So that's what I did."
It's a lesson that will serve him well in his quest to be an officer and a president. If you want to be a leader in this world, you've got to know how to rebound.