BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (WBKO) --- A lot of people look at athletes at all ages and naturally think they’re ‘just a jock.’ It’s an unfortunate generalization that’s been shown all throughout TV and movies with characters like Slater and his muscle tees from “Saved by the Bell” or Andrew Clark’s tough demeanor in “The Breakfast Club.”
Many of the people that are stereotyping athletes rarely ever take the time to learn the complexities of the people they’re generalizing. They ignore the intense dedication it takes to succeed and are unwilling to understand the aspirations of athletes after their playing days end.
WKU basketball player, Moustapha Diagne, is doing his part in extinguishing this stereotype with his work as a community servant. He was awarded for those efforts on Wednesday when he received the Conference USA Spirit of Service award.
Diagne said, “I never want basketball to define me. It’s what I do and I love it, but I want to be seen as a person who cares about people and wants to be there for the people around me who need it.”
The award is designed to commemorate C-USA athletes who show a dedication to community service. This honor is awarded to an athlete from each C-USA school during the fall, winter, and spring seasons.
They determine the recipients based on significant public service, good academic standing, and participation in their elected sport. This is the third year that WKU’s winter award-winner has come from the men’s basketball team as WKU legend, Justin Johnson, won it the past two years.
Diagne’s desire to help others came naturally from his parents in their hometown of Rufisque, Senegal. He grew up in a culture that raised the bar from the traditional southern hospitality in America. The Gentle Giant recalled many times when his mother would openly welcome complete strangers into their home for a meal.
Diagne explained, “It’s just an environment that I grew up with. When you’re a kid, you see that and just become a part of it. It’s not something that you can teach.”
If you ask anyone around the WKU basketball program about Diagne, they’ll immediately tell you about his genuine kindness and warmth in conversation. The 6’9 forward looks at every interaction as a positive force. He explained that he wants to make people smile in every conversation they have with him.
Diagne said, “You never know what somebody’s going through. So, if I see somebody that I can help, then I’ll sit down with them because everybody has something to say.”
The amount of community service that Diagne has undertaken has given him a vast catalog of memories. He’s coached multiple basketball camps, volunteered at the United Way Day of Caring, and his community service took him as far as the Caribbean
Last May, Diagne and WKU Guard Jared Savage adventured to Belize with the evangelist organization Sports Reach. The group led a basketball clinic and visited local churches, but he found a special connection during a series of all-star games.
During the six games that Diagne competed in against professional teams from across Belize, he found a lot of parallels to his youth. He was reminded of his youth when teams from American and European teams that would travel to Africa to compete against Diagne.
Diagne said, “I could relate myself to them growing up in a similar environment to them… This was the same environment that I went through as a kid.”
During the basketball camps, Diagne shared his story of success with the kids in hopes to create a model for them. He taught them about the work ethic and focus that it takes to get out of a similar situation he was in at their age. Through those camps, Diagne even found a budding friendship that is still going on to this day.
Diagne said, “I still talk to two of the kids that were at the camp. We followed each other on Instagram and Snapchat, so we still chat sometimes.”
Even though much of his community service is centered around teaching basketball to kids, Diagne has learned a lot from those same children. He’s been inspired by their ability to take a rough situation and squeeze every drop of enjoyment out of life.
Diagne said, “They make the best with what they got no matter what they go through. They’re smiling and laughing and teaching us too.”
Public service has been a part of Diagne’s life for as long as he can remember, and he plans to continue that trend when his basketball career is over.
Diagne said, “My goal has always been to go back home and help the kids in my hometown. I just want to give them an opportunity to keep them off the streets, to give them a chance, and to help them in school.
(Nathan Yazdani contributed to this story)