Editor's Note: Is college sports really about the degree?

12.13.11 Americans put a huge emphasis on sports. When I was 11, I missed a free throw to lose the Police Boys Club city championship game in Washington D.C. and cried my eyes out in front of 1,500 or so people. The winter of my eighth grade year, I played close to 100 basketball games in four separate leagues. I lived and breathed basketball, yet by the time I was a junior, I barely had a place on my high school team, and ultimately quit to focus on soccer, which I played in college. In my early 20s, I had shoulder trouble from my tennis career, knee surgeries from the Endless Season, and a major case of competitive weariness.

Compare that story to Assane Sene’s, who hadn’t played basketball competitively until 2006, and will likely play professionally somewhere next year. O.K., he’s 7’ tall and everything, but the complexities of the game take many years to learn, as he will tell you. What is most remarkable about Sene’s story is that basketball is a vehicle for him, the result of an adult decision he made with his family to use his God-given physical attributes to make a better life for himself, and ultimately, for his people in Senegal.

In America, nearly every 15-year-old boy thinks he’s going to be a professional athlete of some kind, which isn’t healthy. By contrast, trainers at European soccer academies scientifically measure a players’ speeds, jumping abilities, and technical aptitudes as early as 8 years old, and if they don’t measure up, they become recreational athletes at an early age. What’s the difference between the two systems? The lure of free higher education.

Assane Sene made a promise to his mother to get a college degree, and he may wind up in the NBA as a result. But consider two sobering statistics: According to the NCAA only .03 percent of high school basketball players will play professionally and just 59 percent of African-American Division I basketball players graduate from college.––Giles Morris