Although the Atlantic Ocean separates junior Mama Traore from her home country of Mali, Africa, she can still play the game in which she excelled in her hometown.
Traore is one of the newest forwards on the women’s basketball team this season. Now, after transferring from Burlington County College at the end of the 2012-13 season, the former Baron has a tough role to fill.
Former Temple forward Natasha Thames, who averaged more than seven rebounds per game in her senior season, has graduated and signed with Finland’s Kotka Peli Karhunt.
“Natasha was one of those players, she is so athletic and she can do so many different things on the defensive end,” coach Tonya Cardoza said. “She can step out and guard a guard, she was physical. More importantly she rebounded the basketball on both ends of the floor so that’s something that we are definitely going to miss.”
“We definitely need [Traore] to rebound the basketball for us and be a physical presence not so much on the offensive end, but on the defensive end,” Cardoza added.
Before coming to Temple, Traore spent two seasons at Burlington County, where she played center for the Barons. While there, the 6-foot-1-inch center averaged 20 points and 13 rebounds during her second season, helping the team to a 22-7 overall record during the 2012-13 season in Region 19. Burlington County went on to win the Garden State Athletic Conference championship.
The former Baron captain was named the 2013 NJCAA Region 19 Player of the Year and also the 2013 Garden State Athletic Conference Player of the Year that season.
Traore’s success did not begin at Burlington County College, though.
It started across the ocean in her birth country of Mali, where she played for one of the country’s club women’s basketball teams, Djoliba AC. There, Traore was recruited to play for the under-18 and under-20 national team.
In 2006, Traore joined the under-20 Malian National Team in winning the African Championship. Her squad competed against teams like Angola, Mozambique, Senegal and South Africa.
Despite the stiff competition, Traore’s team came out victorious, winning the gold medal.
The African Champion did not stop there. Later that year, Traore said she had the opportunity to play in the World Cup on the Malian women’s national basketball team in Russia.
“It was really cool because I got to play against the United States, [and] some of the best players on the United States National Team,” Traore said.
Injuries sidelined Traore as the national team went on the court and competed in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Two years later, Traore moved to the United States, where she said she began studying business management at Temple. Without an offer, but with a desire to begin playing basketball in the U.S., Traore said she reached out to former Temple assistant coach Dan Durkin.
“He said I would be professional so I would have to sit a year before I could play,” Traore said. “So I decided to transfer to Burlington County College to play there and then come back.”
“He thought that I was professional, the way he understood what I told him,” Traore added. “But I wasn’t a professional.”
Traore went on to play two seasons at Burlington County, and pointed to the required fitness as the most significant difference in basketball style between the two countries.
“It’s tougher here because everyone has to lose weight,” Traore said. “Back home you don’t have to lose weight. You play the same basketball style, but you don’t have to lose weight everyday.”
It was at Burlington County, Cardoza said, that Traore contacted Temple about possibly playing at the university.
“We took a look at her and decided to offer her,” Cardoza said.
Now, after returning to Temple last fall and sitting out a year per NCAA eligibility rules, Traore said she is ready to continue her basketball career at Temple. However, Cardoza said the forward needs to improve in a few areas.
“What she needs to work on is be a little more physical and scoring around the basket,” Cardoza said. “She is coming in with a jump shot. That’s her comfort zone, but this game is a little more physical than what she is probably used to.
“But, she can definitely be a leader for us,” Cardoza added. “I think she is very positive. But definitely when she and Taylor are playing together she is able to knock down 15-foot jump shot.”
As the new season lies just days away, Traore said she’s looking for a successful year from a team standpoint.
“We want to win the championship,” Traore said. “That’s my goal here. I want to go as far as I can.”
Danielle Nelson can be reached at email@example.com and on twitter @Dan_Nels