By Joseph Santoliquito (@JSantoliquito)
Alassane “Big Al” Amadou wanted to be wanted. That’s all.
The 6-foot-9, 190-pound Springside Chestnut Hill Academy forward has been blossoming on the national picture in recent years and no school, nor any coach, showed him as much intense attention as Shaka Smart and Marquette.
The Golden Eagles seemed to be everywhere.
It’s why Amadou announced on Thursday afternoon that Marquette would be his college destination over Miami, Georgia Tech, San Diego, and St. John’s.
“I liked coach Smart and his staff, and I got a good vibe from them,” said Amadou, who averaged 12 points, 9 rebounds and 4 blocked shots for the Blue Devils last season. “They said they were going to be patient with me. I liked coach Smart’s energy and he cares about you. He told me he doesn’t mind if I play through my mistakes, as long as I play hard. They said they see me as a versatile wing that can rebound and put the ball on the floor, block shots, play defense and guard.
“I’ll be honest, of my final five, there wasn’t even a close second. If there was a close second, I would say it was Miami. But it was really crazy how hard Marquette recruited me. They called me every day. They came to my practices. Marquette is also a big basketball school, and they pay a lot of attention to their team. I kind of like that. I never thought I would be in this situation. I felt very wanted.”
SCHA's Alassane Amadou will continue his academic and athletic careers at Marquette. (Photo: Owen McCue/CoBL)
Smart, 44, splashed on the national college basketball scene by leading Virginia Commonwealth (VCU) to the Final Four in 2011. In 13 years of coaching, he’s led nine of his teams to the NCAA Tournament and carries a 291-155 (.652) overall record, and his teams were 136-94 (.591) in conference play, which includes a 19-13 overall finish and 11-8 mark in the Big East Conference last season during his first year at Marquette, including a season sweep of nationally ranked Villanova.
“Making this decision now feels good because it takes a lot of pressure off,” Amadou said. “I can just play my senior year. I know where I’m going. Coach Smart told me he wants me to put more weight on to get on the floor, to definitely play defense, shoot the ball well, be a good teammate and play hard.
“What I really liked is that Coach Smart said the biggest thing he liked about me was my character. That meant a lot to me. I’m in a good place right now. It’s nice to know where you’re going. The recruiting process wasn’t really that hard. It was actually pretty fun. It’s nice to have all these schools show you attention. It was fun while it lasted. And Marquette plays in the Big East. I get to come home once every year.”
Marquette came into the picture when they saw Amadou on the AAU circuit playing for Philly Pride last summer. The coaching staff went to Springside Chestnut Hill’s open runs during an open recruiting period and were further convinced Amadou was a Big East player.
“I would say this is an optimum return on a great investment,” said Amauro Austin, one of the lead directors for the Philly Pride AAU team. “Things came to fruition. Big Al bought in with what we wanted to do. He bought in to what we told him. When he came to us, he was a skinny, rail-thin 6-6 rising ninth grader. There was some potential there, and now he’s going to go to one of the major colleges in the country and keep developing.
“Al doesn’t get here without Jay Joseph, who got Big Al in eighth grade and turned him over to us. Jay really took care of the kid. Big Al moved up to the Quakertown area and he felt he trusted us to get Al where he needed to go. I would say Al wouldn’t be going to Marquette without Jay. Big Al had some really good people in his corner who took care of him.
“Marquette really worked their tails off to get this kid. They were everywhere. I tell my kids to go where you’re wanted and needed. Shaka did an awesome job. I have to commend those guys. They wanted him to be a part of this. We already have Stevie Mitchell there (at Marquette, out of Reading) who is one of our guys.”
Austin is a huge advocate for African American coaches and feels Smart is the staple for Black coaches the last 10 years. Program-wise, Marquette is a fit for Amadou’s skills. Smart likes athletic bigs who can run, jump, and switch up defensively on guards.
“It’s a very good fit for Al,” Austin said. “Al does some things that some of the guys Shaka has in the pros don’t do. He puts it on the floor. He shoots it. Al had a great July, playing probably the best basketball of his career. It’s good the hard work paid off.”
Austin also credited Philly Pride coach Kevin Stewart and Springside Chestnut Hill Academy coach Julian McFadden for making Marquette possible, considering Amadou’s journey. He started at Quakertown in eighth grade. It did not look like a good situation where he could expand his basketball skills, so he transferred to Bishop McDevitt, which closed, leaving Amadou out in the cold.
That’s when McFadden and Springside Chestnut Hill Academy stepped forward.
“Kevin spent a lot of hours in the gym with Al, and there was a lot of yelling,” Austin said. “Kevin was the point guy in the recruiting, and this process has not been pretty all the time, but Kevin gave it to Al straight, and we see what happened. Julian helped Al acclimate academically to one of the great schools in the area.
“The Springside Chestnut Hill Springside community really took Al in. How Al fit in to an elite private school like that is beyond impressive. Everyone loves him there. It was a seamless transition that could have been an issue. I never got a call about him — ever. Al is a special kid, from what he’s been through to where he’s going. It’s a happy ending for Big Al.”
Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who began writing for CoBL in 2021 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be followed on Twitter here.