From West Africa to the States

From+West+Africa+to+the+States

From Senegal to the U.S, Jean Yves “JY” Toupane, Gannon University’s 6-foot-7 forward, looks to finish his senior campaign strong for the Knights’ men’s basketball team.
From starting just over half the games for the 2014-15 season to becoming a full-time starter this year, Toupane has continued to grow and improve since his arrival at Gannon.
Toupane is from Dakar, the capital of Senegal in West Africa, which he described as small, fun and full of friendly people.
“Ninety-five percent of the population there are Muslim and the people there all stick together,” he said. “I am Christian but a lot of my friends are Muslims, so I learned a lot from them about the Muslim culture.”
Toupane lives with his mother but was raised by his grandmother. He started traveling when he got involved in sports. His family members supported him because they knew it was for a good cause and it would help him better himself.
His family had a basketball background, as his dad played basketball. Toupane’s first sport was soccer, where he showed his versatility by playing goalie, midfielder and forward.
“I was good at soccer,” he said. “That was my first love.”
He would later win MVP on his soccer team while attending school in the U.S and playing basketball.
Toupane first picked up a basketball at age 12 and began playing with friends for recreational play.
He soon started to improve and began taking the sport a little more seriously.
“There were basketball camps I would go to after school they held for us and I would play all the time,” Toupane said.
Toupane noticed the potential he had in basketball. He began taking the game seriously, playing in more camps and a program that helps athletes in Senegal called Sports for Education and Economic Development (SEEDS).
“The program is to help you gain a scholarship to a school in the U.S for basketball,” Toupane said. “You travel all through Senegal and play basketball and also to the states.”
Toupane said the SEEDS program was almost like AAU basketball for Senegal.
“It would help you get exposure so that you were able to get a scholarship,” he said.
In Africa, Toupane was named MVP of the NBA’s Basketball without Borders program.
Toupane traveled to the U.S for the first time to play in the 2010 Jordan Brand international game, where he would earn MVP honors.
Toupane attended Lee Academy in Maine, where he would obtain a scholarship for basketball.
“When I first got to the U.S. I didn’t know English,” Toupane said. “All I knew was to nod my head yes or no. It was tough in school because my teachers would talk really fast so it was hard for me to understand them.
“When it came to basketball, that was different. All I had to do was watch and observe and I was able to do what my coaches wanted me to do.”
Toupane eventually learned enough English to speak, and he transferred to Lee Academy through the SEEDS program 2011. His first year there he began having a good junior campaign and gained interest from numerous colleges, such as Missouri State, Maine and Washington State.
Toupane wasn’t able to play his senior season because of eligibility rules for his prep school. He didn’t understand why he couldn’t play but was told if he played his last year that it would compromise his eligibility for college.
“I was mad that year because I had worked hard all summer, to later find out I wasn’t able to play,” Toupane said
Toupane was still able to practice with the team even though he couldn’t play. And college coaches would come to sit in on those practices, including Mark Schmidt of St. Bonaventure.
“Most schools backed away from me because I wasn’t playing my last year at Lee Academy but St. Bonaventure took a chance on me,” said Toupane, who eventually would sign a letter of intent to play basketball at St. Bonaventure.
Toupane described St. Bonaventure as a small school in the middle of nowhere and in a small community.
“When I first got to St. Bonaventure I liked it, I guess, but I was really there for basketball,” he said “The way we did things was pretty cool from the coaches to my teammates.”
Toupane didn’t get a lot of playing time during his first two years at St. Bonaventure, so he decided to look for a new home to play basketball and further his education. Toupane said Schmidt was easygoing with the process and helped Toupane find a new school to attend.
Gannon coach John Reilly, who had seen Toupane play during practices that he attended, showed interest and ultimately Toupane decided to transfer to Gannon.
Reilly said he enjoys watching other teams practice and it’s not unusual for him to watch St. Bonaventure, Canisius, Buffalo or Duquesne, and he’ll also watch a lot of games on TV.
“As a coach, I am always trying to learn because the longer I am in coaching sometimes it seems the less I know because the game is always changing,” he said.
Reilly said he knew Toupane was a good player because he had watched him practice on many occasions.
“We have a good relationship with the St. Bonaventure coaches,” Reilly said. “I’ll go up there in the summer to watch them work out players individually and we pretty much learn from them.”
Reilly said that when St. Bonaventure contacted him about Toupane’s desire to transfer, he indicated he was definitely interested.
From there Toupane would begin going through the transfer process, visiting Gannon to potentially enroll and continue his studies and collegiate career.
“When I came on my visit I liked what they had to offer,” Toupane said. “It was more students, a city atmosphere and I felt it was a great fit.
“Reilly spoke to me and said I would get to play a lot here, but it would be up to me if I put in the work.”
Coming from a Division I school Toupane said the competition was fairly similar but he admitted the practices were tougher than he thought they’d be.
“My biggest thing with JY was getting him used to the work ethic here,” Reilly said.
Some people think they can go from a major Division I school to a Division II school and maybe the competition won’t be as good, or maybe they won’t work as hard.
“I’m not sure if that was his thought process, but guys come here and find out we work just as hard or maybe harder,” Reilly said.
“We want him to really bring his work ethic with him every day and his toughness level that he needs to be a successful player in our program.”
Toupane said coming from St. Bonaventure to Gannon was an adjustment of different coaching styles.
“At St. Bonaventure we mostly focused on offense but at Gannon we focused more on defense and rebounding,” Toupane said.
Making the transition from one philosophy to another was tough for Toupane but he eventually adapted, and that showed last year.
“For me practice was really hard. I would sometimes hope I got injured—that’s how bad it was,” Toupane said while laughing.
“I would be so tired from basketball practice, but it made me tougher.”
Tony Boykins, a senior guard for Gannon who is also Toupane’s roommate, acknowledged the challenge of practices.
“When JY and I got to Gannon, going through the practices together, we would have conversations about practice all the time about how tough it was.
“Sometimes we would tell each other, ‘I don’t know if I’ll make it tomorrow,’” Boykins said as he laughed out loud.
Toupane said Reilly really cares about his players and he will tell you the truth whether you like it or not.
“Coach Reilly is a good coach,” he said.
“Getting used to the defense was a challenge. Coach Reilly wanted us to force defenders outside and it was something I wasn’t used to doing because at St. Bonaventure we would force players to the middle because that is where our help was coming from.”
Boykins he agreed that getting used to the defense was something new and challenging for most of the newcomers.
Toupane and Boykins are good friends on and off the court as they both came in last year as transfers to help contribute to a conference championship.
“He’s like my annoying big brother, but we are always there for each other,” Boykins said of Toupane.
Toupane and Boykins pick each other up when the other is feeling down and when either of them has a bad practice.
“We hold each other accountable because we want to see each other progress and play good basketball,” Boykins said.
Last year Toupane was able to come to Gannon and contributed to a team that won the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) championship for the 2014-15 season. Starting 17 games out of 30, Toupane averaged 6.3 points and four rebounds per game.
“Last year was the best team I have ever been a part of,” Toupane said. “We were close on and off the court and winning the PSAC championship meant a lot to me.
“I knew from the start of the season we were going to win it all. I just knew because the way we would play together.”
Last year’s team graduated four starters who were key contributors who helped lead the team to a PSAC title.
Boykins said when he and Toupane would talk about the current season, they would always talk about their roles and how they had a new team.
“We talked about how we would have to step up and find ways to impact the game even when we aren’t the ones scoring,” Boykins said.
Toupane, Boykins and the rest of the Knights have had their hands full, as they’ve struggled to an overall record of 4-15 and 3-13 in PSAC play going into Wednesday’s 7:30 p.m. matchup with Clarion at the Hammermill Center.
Reilly characterized Toupane, who is averaging 15.2 points and seven rebounds per game, as a “good old-school basketball player.”
“And what I mean by that is he’s not a big, strong, bulky guy—he’s lean, he can play both inside and outside and he’s smart,” Reilly said. “He understands the game and has a good IQ.”
Reilly said he wants to see Toupane improve to be a much more consistent dependable defender, because when he wants to he can defend and this team really needs him.
“Last year we had Adam Blazek, A’Darius Porter, and Raphell Thomas-Edwards — those guys ran our thing defensively,” Reilly said. “This year, obviously, they have graduated. So we are trying to find our identity because we haven’t been very good defensively to this point in time.”
Toupane noted the biggest challenge is the missing bond from last year.
“We are still young and have lot of new faces but we need to focus and stay together and build trust in each other and we will be OK,” Toupane said.
Off the court Toupane doesn’t go out a lot; he spends most of his time at school, practicing and studying.
When Toupane has extra time he spends it with his girlfriend or playing video games with Boykins or other teammates and sometimes watches soccer.
“I don’t really go out because there’s nothing out there for me,” he said.
Toupane sometimes watches NBA basketball to learn and study the game with Boykins.
Reilly said he likes Toupane and respects where he has come from and to be able to do what he has done.
“He’s smart and has really grown as a person, and Gannon has been a good fit for him,” Reilly said. “His life off the court is very good—he has good friends, a great girlfriend, good support staff and excellent teammates.”
Toupane, meanwhile, said Reilly “is probably the best coach I’ve had out of all the coaches I’ve had.”
Toupane is on pace to graduate in May with a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies. He said he has thought about his potential to play professional basketball and added that he thinks he will try to play overseas when he is done at Gannon.
“Right now I am focused on the season and school but when the time comes I want to give it a try,” Toupane said.

CORY JOHNSON
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