The Last Word

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:11 AM ET

Pape Sow's belly is full.

So why is he so hungry?

For the answer, go back to the summer, when he looked outside his parents' home in Dakar, Senegal, and noticed a line that snaked out from his front door into the street.

"You stand there and you think, 'You're the man,' said Sow (whose name is pronounced Pop Sew.) Then you realize these people have nothing. That's why they're here."

Sow figures he financially supports more than 30 people. Some are relatives. Others are not. For some the money goes for food; for others, education and books.

And that's why Sow is hungry. Because so many others are.

He is speaking from Little Rock, home of the Arkansas RimRockers, a franchise in the NBA's development league. First- and second-year players as well as free agents make up the league and those who have contracts, like Sow, are natural targets for those who don't.

"Everybody wants to make their bones on these guys every day," RimRockers coach Joe Harge said.

If the Raptors wanted to toughen Pape Sow, they chose the right place.

"Over here, most players, when they learn you are with an NBA team, they're coming at you and they want to kill you on the court," Sow said. "You've got to show that you want it, too."

Drafted in 2004 in the second round by the Miami Heat and flipped to the Raptors, Sow's quest for the big money has carried him from a comfortable life in Dakar (where his father, a teacher, wanted the kids to learn to cook and clean, so he gave the maids the weekend off), to a California junior college, then to Cal State-Fullerton.

From there it was on to the Raptors roster and now, the minors.

Sow has been a smash hit in Little Rock. He is averaging 19.4 points and a league-high 12.3 rebounds. At 6-foot-10 and 250 pounds, Sow isn't a natural centre, rather a hard-working power forward who will garner most of his points from the foul line thanks to an insatiable appetite for rebounds.

The Raptors could use his rebounding and work ethic but they have a glut of power forwards.

Raptors general manager Rob Babcock and coach Sam Mitchell remain convinced centre Rafael Araujo eventually can adapt to the NBA game. An investment of $9.7 million US over a four-year deal buys Araujo, who possesses little of Sow's athleticism or rebounding ability, the chances Sow only can dream about.

Small wonder that Sow pays little attention to the goings-on with the Raptors.

"I focus on what is going on here," he said. "Every night when I go to play, I play like it's my last night here."

Said Harge: "With Toronto, I don't think he would have been as vocal as he has been here. Here, he's vocal, he's a leader.

Sow hadn't played much basketball when a U.S. recruiter noticed his height and athletic ability in high school. He spoke no English, just the language of the Wolof people, and French, a language held over from colonial days. It would be four years before he would see his parents after going stateside.

At least at Cal-State there were a handful of people from Senegal. Now, the only Senegalese face he sees has shaving cream on it.

Sow doesn't know how do drive. He cooks for himself. He pines for Senegal, not in the way of a kid, but in the way of a man who knows what he's missing. "There's nothing better than to live with your family," he said. "And every time you wake up and walk around you see people who love you."

It speaks to the absurdity of his life that the only thing that really matters right now for Pape Sow is his ability to claw a basketball away from other desperate men.

The mere refinement of that talent will have earned him $1 million over two years and that total could mushroom with a new contract that would do more good in Dakar.

Alone in Little Rock, Pape Sow is bent on self-improvement.

"I want to be a better player," he said, "and as good a person as I can be."


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