CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — A trip home when you haven’t been back in awhile can be a game changer. A chance to refresh, recharge and refocus, home cooked meals never hurt either, and that’s exactly what Illinois sophomore center Samba Kane did last month. He hadn’t been back to his native Senegal in three years.
“I was happy, just being around my friends,” Kane said. “We used to go to practice together and do everything together. When I get back they still have the same mentality, being nice with me, like I never left and it felt great.”
And it’s that time spent a half a world away that has Kane still smiling today. He was in Africa for a month, leaving after the semester ended in May.
“It helped me mentally because when I went home and saw the situation and people don’t have a really good situation, like living situation,” he said. “When I walk on the street, people come up to me and say, ‘We saw your video on YouTube and we’re cheering for you.'”
Samba repped the Orange and Blue on the courts in Dakar while getting a few workouts in. Those were tougher with Ramadan going on. Kane is a Muslim, meaning he fasted from sunrise to sunset for the month.
“It’s hard but when you’re home it’s different because you’re doing it with your family and friends so it’s a lot easier than when I’m here (Champaign),” Kane added.
Samba ended up losing 10 pounds, weight he’s currently trying to gain back reach his goal of 230. Now if he could only get those home cooked meals from mom sent to campus.
“She’s proud,” Kane said. “You know every time she goes out she’s like, ‘Can you please come with me?’ or like, ‘Go on a walk with me,’ and I’m like, ‘Sure, mom.’ She’s really proud of me, I can tell.”
With mom’s blessing, Kane’s spending the summer at Ubben, his first off-season after getting to Champaign late last year and missing crucial time with strength and conditioning coach Adam Fletcher. The 7-foot center is specifically focusing on his touch around the basket, rebounding and blocking shots.
“I feel like that time away from here and going back home was really good for him,” fellow Illini sophomore Tevian Jones said. “He’s also been stepping up his game on the court and making the right play, dunks and finishing.”
“We’ve seen a rejuvenated, excited Samba,” Illinois head coach Brad Underwood said. “He’s attacking the weight room and following along with Giorgi (Bezhanishvili) and that work habit mode.”
Kane knows there’s still a long way to go and a lot of work to put in after averaging just 1.5 points in 18 games last season. But several flashes, including a turnaround jumper against Minnesota, showed Illini Nation a glimpse of what could be.
“I know what’s waiting for me and I have to really work harder and get better,” Kane said.