Let me tell you a story about a foreigner. He came to America with little fanfare. Few people saw something in him, though James Arthur Boeheim was not one of those people. He invited this boy from another land to join him in Central New York. The boy did not break records. He did not put up statistics that made Jay Bilas caress himself. And the correct pronunciation of his name remained a mystery to national play-by-play announcers throughout it all.
Despite the evidence that seemed to say otherwise, the boy became something. He brought with him certainly qualities. Hustle. Intensity. Excitement. His play infected teammates, making them better. His efforts inspired the Syracuse crowd. Even if the rest of America didn't know anything about him, he was a fan favorite and a critical member of the program.
He WAS Kristof! Ongenaut. He IS Baye Moussa Keita.
And here's the exciting part. This version is only a freshman.
It's the understatement of the year to say that Baye was an afterthought in the 2010 recruiting class. Fab Melo was the gem, Dion Waiters was the Jonny-Flynn-in-training and C.J. Fair was Mr. Potential. Keita was just there. An assumed redshirt. No one expected him to play and certainly not to make any kind of critical contribution to the team this year. Maybe even next year.
Instead, he's The Glue Guy.
You can "thank" DaShonte Riley's injury for opening the door to Keita and you can "thank" Fab Melo's struggles for forcing the issue. Now, instead of talking about Melo and as one-and-done, we're all wondering why he and not Baye is in the starting lineup. At the end of the day, it's less about the players in front of him and more about Baye's effort to make it happen for himself:
"Baye is working really hard on his offense and is progressing," SU assistant coach Mike Hopkins said. "He really wants to learn and is willing to put in the time to improve."
Baye's even received the highest compliment possible from Jim Boeheim, who has upgraded Baye from a "sell" to "buy."
"He played the way he plays. He’s very active. He’s had a really solid year."
This isn't to discredit Fair, who's turned into quite the sparkplug off the bench as well. Fair has officially leapfrogged James Southerland and Mookie Jones and is on track to be a key contributor for the Orange over the next 2-3 years.
But there's something about Keita's story that's too appealing to deny. Check out Mike Waters' piece of Baye's youth in Africa and how a self-professed soccer lover came to play basketball at Syracuse University.
In it, Baye's high school coach lets us know something we've been suspecting for a while now:
"I’ve seen a few of Syracuse’s games," Oak Hill’s Smith said, "and he’s still just scratching the surface."
Baye's Day is just beginning.