By Sam Finley

N’Faly Dante learned the game of basketball in the 100-degree summers of his home country, Mali. Initially, the UO men’s basketball center watched his sisters play before his mother insisted he try the game himself. By his own admission, the 7-foot Dante didn’t always take the game seriously — until he realized something important. 

“I discovered that I could be good enough to one day be able to support my family,” he says. “Then I decided to play basketball with a little more passion.” That was a big motivator because “there are not as many chances in Mali for success compared to the U.S.,” he adds. “It was very hard for me growing up in that country.”

So Dante jumped at the chance to come to America as a teenager. He briefly lived in Alabama before going to high school at the Sunrise Christian Academy in Bel Aire, Kansas. It was there he became a high-profile basketball recruit that many schools wanted — before he injured his knee as a sophomore. And yet, it was that misfortune that resulted in his becoming a Duck in 2019.

“I’m all about loyalty,” he explains. “Oregon was the only school that didn’t stop paying attention after I got hurt. Coach Dana Altman kept coming to see me and motivated me to get better. The entire coaching staff was loyal to me, so I returned that loyalty to them.”

And for the past few years, not only has he reciprocated the loyalty from the Oregon coaches and teammates, but he loves the culture in the area and how the community supports the Ducks. There’s just one thing he doesn’t like about Eugene.

“I’m not crazy about the rain,” Dante laughs. “I’ve never liked it. But I love the mountains and going hiking. Everything else in this area is awesome.”

What’s also been awesome is his overall play on the court, particularly last season, when he led the team with 13.5 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. Dante also let his presence be known in the paint, blocking at least one shot in 23 games and more than one shot in 12 matches. For these reasons, he’s optimistic about a pro career, but he’s preparing for other avenues as well. 

“I’m majoring in political science,” he says. “Those are the toughest classes I’ve ever taken in school. I’m still deciding what I want to do, but I’m very hopeful that I’ll be able to play in the NBA. If I must do something else, I’ll take it from there.”

In the meantime, he’s going into his final season as a Duck hoping to lead the team to greater heights. While Oregon has averaged more than 20 wins in the past two years, they’ve come up painfully short in making the NCAA Tournament. That’s something he wants to change before he leaves. 

“We must have a great sense of urgency in every game we play,” Dante says. “And I’ve taken it upon myself as a leader of this team to remind everyone that we are not at Oregon to just hoop. Our goal is to get into the NCAA Tournament and win it.”

That said, Dante believes his teammates are up for that goal and is upbeat for what lies ahead.

“Every single teammate has been working very hard in the gym to make this a special year,” he says. “I’m very hopeful that we stay healthy, because we have a chance to be very good if we do, and will be very fun to watch.”