Hassan Fofana looks back on his experiment at the University of Maryland with no regrets and imagines life beyond cozy Loyola College with a smile as he charts the possibilities.
One day, Fofana wants to make his parents proud by earning a degree in international business and starting his own company.
He might take over his father's clothing business back home in the West African nation of Togo. Then there is the professional basketball career he could find overseas after he helps Loyola become a power in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.
For now, Fofana, the 6-foot-10, 270-pound center about to re-start his playing career, is enjoying college life on a small campus and longing for the physicality that comes with live competition.
The Loyola Greyhounds (5-1), who suffered their only defeat after their first 5-0 start in 75 years under second-year coach Jimmy Patsos, are off and running, thanks largely to senior point guard and Maryland transfer Andre Collins.
Players such as sophomore forward Michael Tuck and senior forward Josko Alujevic have made major contributions.
Starting with tonight's visit to the University of Virginia, the other ex-Maryland guy, the friendly, engaging post player who speaks five languages and could be the biggest man on the Loyola campus, aims to provide the final piece of a winning puzzle.
"Maryland was a great experience. As far as basketball, I was one of the guys where a lot of people can play, and I was fortunate enough to be on a team that played in the ACC and won an ACC championship. I have a feeling of what it takes," said Fofana, 22, who left College Park a year ago after playing sparingly for a little more than one season, and will start tonight.
"I'm excited to see what it's going to be like, especially against Virginia. I know it's not going to be easy, but I miss banging around a little bit, you know?"
Tuck knows. For the past few months, he has seen Fofana reveal his intellect in a literature class, where Fofana is always involved in the discussion. Tuck also has witnessed the other side of Fofana on the court, where he brings the bulk that complements his improving post moves, rebounding, passing and shot-blocking skills.
With each passing day, Fofana looks a little more fluid, a little less raw. His nagging back pain is gone. He has combined a lean diet with studious weight training. He has never been trimmer since starting college. Not that battling Fofana in practice is a pleasant chore.
"[Fofana] is like a brick wall," Tuck said. "Trying to post him up is tough. There are times when you want to just get out of his way. Coach says he is a large human being, and he's got that right. He's going to be one of the biggest and toughest kids in the MAAC to guard."
Patsos, who first recruited Fofana as an assistant under Maryland coach Gary Williams, remembers watching a youth with barely any organized basketball experience throwing his weight around for an AAU team from Middlesex, Mass.
Fofana, a native of Guinea and one of 10 children, was taken in by a guardian named Gary Gibbons and enrolled at Holy Name Academy in Worcester, Mass. He would move on to Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va.
"He was raw, but big guys take a while to develop, and I still think he would have developed at Maryland. It just might have taken longer," said Patsos, who watched Fofana average 1.4 points and 1.7 rebounds with limited playing time as a freshman.
"I just want him to go out and block shots and rebound. If Hassan could just be a presence for us, that would meet my expectations for this year. The biggest thing is for him to work hard every day and get used to playing in games. By next year, we want him to score more."
Fofana, who has been granted a redshirt year and has two full seasons remaining after this season, is certain he has come to the right place. He loves the smaller classes as opposed to the 100-student lectures he regularly attended at Maryland. He expects to touch the ball often in Patsos' offense. He is developing a good drop step and sharpening his power moves. Everybody recognizes him at Loyola.
"I can't go somewhere [at Loyola] without somebody yelling out, `Hey Hassan, how you doing?' I like that," he said. "I'm excited. I can't wait to play. I think I can make an instant impact." firstname.lastname@example.org