On Wednesday, Quinnipiac power forward Ousmane Drame began participating in the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament (PIT), a four-day event held each year in the Southern Virginia city showcasing 64 of college basketball’s 2015 NBA Draft sleepers hiding in plain sight.
One veteran NBA scout holds out hope for the 6-foot-9, 235-pound former New Mission High star's stock rising over the weekend.
“He plays with such high energy, so if the kid dedicates his time in the tournament to grabbing 14-15 rebounds a game, he’ll have a gym full of NBA scouts with all eyes on him,” the scout said.
Eight of last year’s graduating seniors holding invitations to the prestigious event found themselves appearing on NBA rosters this season, while NBA All-Stars Jimmy Butler, John Stockton and Dave Cowens were once NBA maybes who got their start in Portsmouth, Va.
The notion that Drame’s name is permeating an NBA board room is nothing short of a minor miracle. A native of Guinea, he lost both of his parents in a tragic car accident at the age of six, immigrated to Dorchester at age 10, and barely made his high school team as a junior, holding no scholarship offers upon graduation from New Mission in 2010.
On numerous occasions, Drame fond life begging him to dust himself off the mat and rebound from adversity. Inclusion in the prestigious Portsmouth event, is just another opportunity where Drame answers the bell.
“His drive is unmatched. It’s bigger than basketball. He loves who he is and he is that way because of where he came from. He had a tough life, but took it into his own hands,” reflected New Mission High School head coach Cory McCarthy.
After sprouting five inches between 10th and 11th grade, the once-gangly lefty made the New Mission varsity team as a junior while teammates initially pushed back over McCarthy’s decision to add Drame to the program.
“My high school teammates were more advanced than I was, so they saw me as a subordinate in a way. I learned a lot in my first year, about myself and it pushed me to work harder,” Drame told ESPNBoston.com.
Although his first year of organized basketball proved to be rocky, McCarthy recalls witnessing the emergence of a competitive spirit continuing to define Drame’s mindset as he approaches a looming professional career.
“We were in the state semis and Ousmane -- who averaged six points per game -- went off for 24 points and 17 rebounds, his first ever double-double," McCarthy said. "So after we lose I approached him to ask him where that play was all year and he simply said "I hated the other guy, and I was making sure he was going to hate me after the game" That’s when I knew we were going to win the states the following year."
The following season found McCarthy prophetic, but after winning the Division 4 State Title, his 6-foot-7 southpaw remained without a scholarship, boasting a financial aid package from Division 3 power Salem State.
“We knew if he wasn’t going prep, he was going to Salem,” McCarthy said.
But, a post-graduate year at Marianapolis was the vehicle providing Drame another forum to participate in spring and summer of 2010 AAU events with the Boston Warriors, a locally competitive AAU program coached by McCarthy and Mark Papas. His April live period performance at the Hoop Group’s Spring Fling in Neptune, N.J., witnessed Drame arriving in the eyes of Division 1 coaches throughout the Northeast Conference.
Current Jeremiah E Burke Head Coach Sean Ryan, then an assistant at Central Connecticut offered first, with Quinnipiac, Robert Morris and Wagner trailing Drame all summer and into the prep season.
To some players, being told they could find their ceiling as low Division 1 player after a year of prep school or junior college is a harsh reality. But college scouts' blunt talk saw Drame embracing this chance. Throughout the recruiting process he never got bitter, instead using his extra year at Marinapolis to simply get better and disprove skeptics.
“When you see someone in front of you that you don’t think is as good as you, and you look at the opposite person and don’t feel the same way, you have the natural instinct that that person has nothing over you and you are going to do anything to prove it,” Drame said.
At the Thompson, Conn.-based prep school, he bolstered his raw but potentially dominating abilities passing out of the high post, remaining patient when catching the basketball at the low block, facing up slower defenders and most importantly rebounding.
Signing at Quinnipiac following his post-graduate year at Marinapolis, Drame quickly asserted himself as a skilled, but blue collar “defend and rebound” power forward, crediting his strength and conditioning coaches for adding nearly 50 pounds of muscle since graduating from New Mission in 2010.
After starting most of his career and tying Boston native Ike Azotam as the Bobcats' leader in double-doubles, his career culminated with the 2014-2015 MAAC Defensive Player of the Year honors.
“In his time at Quinnipiac he worked hard to improve in every facet of his game, became stronger and a much better defender," said Quinnipiac head coach Tom Moore. "He’s terrific at altering shots at the rim without fouling and corralling guys without fouling."
Moore sang from a similar sheet of music when describing Drame’s steadied offensive improvements.
“Credit a lot of people in the Boston area, particularly Cory McCarthy and Mark Papas, that discovered him and lit the spark," Moore said. "Ousmane’s feel for the game is his best attribute. He can really pass the ball, understands why you are using strategies in a game plan and really has a high basketball IQ."
In the opening round of the PIT on Wednesday night, Drame scored 8 points and grabbed 8 rebounds in his team’s loss. Following the game the veteran NBA scout was firm that Drame’s niche at the next level must be one thing.
“You don’t need a mother, you don’t need a father, you don’t need an agent, a trainer or a coach to rebound the basketball at a high level. All you need is yourself,” added the veteran NBA Scout.
Following graduation from Quinnipiac in the spring, at some level, Drame will undoubtedly make money playing basketball. He’s articulate, respectful, and competitive, while ironically he’ll probably make more money when the ball stops bouncing.
Ousmane Drame’s childhood began with a nightmare, losing both his parents in a horrific accident. But after immigrating to America, his body of work as a human being is living proof to cynics that inside every inner-city kid the American Dream is alive, kicking and just waiting be discovered.