July 23, 2013
By Phillip Marshall
AUBURN, Ala. - There were times that Khady Dieng wondered why she had done it, why she had left her native Senegal for a strange country with a strange language and strange culture. She missed her parents, her brothers and sisters and her friends.
"It was hard," she says. "I cried a lot."
It was just three years ago that Dieng embarked on her great adventure, traveling from here native city of Dakar to North Carolina, where she lived with an aunt and uncle. A year later, she transferred to Gatewood School near Atlanta and led her team to a 57-2 record and a state championship over two seasons. She was also a volleyball and track standout.
News of a physical guard with elite athleticism quickly reached Auburn, where Terri Williams-Flournoy was finishing her first season as head coach. Auburn assistant Ty Evans made a big impression, and in June, Dieng's adventure took another turn. She signed with Auburn and enrolled in school.
It all started when Dieng was 8 years old. She loved to play soccer. An uncle saw her play and asked if she wanted to try basketball. She joined a club team, and within two years was turning heads with her basketball ability. In 2010, she left the comfort of home to pursue a dream.
"It's hard from being away from your family and your friends," Dieng says. "I had to transition between languages and living styles and playing basketball here. The food is different. How people live here is different. I don't know how to explain it. It's just different."
Dieng talks easily and with near-perfect English.
"I still think in French," she says. "I translate what I hear to French and back to English. There's a lot going on up there."
When she arrived from Senegal, where the common language is French, Dieng could speak no English at all.
"You want to say something, but you don't know how to say it, so you are quiet," Dieng says. "When I went to visit my aunt and uncle they said 'We're not going to speak French. We are going to speak English. That's how you are going to learn how to speak it.' That helped a lot."
In Atlanta, Dave and Kayleen Ringer opened their home and their heats to Dieng as her host family. She says it was they who put her on the course that led her to Auburn.
"My host family helped me a lot," she says. "They are nice people. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for them. My high school coach helped me a lot, too."
Williams-Flournoy says Dieng, 5-foot-10, has the skills it takes to compete and win in the Southeastern Conference.
"She's very skilled and knows the game very well," Williams-Flournoy says. "She has a great body for a guard. She's physical, she can shoot, she attacks the basket. She's got all the things that she needs to be a very good player. Now it's just a matter of coaching her and getting her better."
Dieng is majoring in international business and wants eventually to play professionally in Spain or France. For now, she wants to fit in with her new teammates and help Auburn win.
"I like the way they play," she says. "I like the school and the town. I didn't want to go to a school in Atlanta, because it's big. Here it's like family."
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: