VANCOUVER, BC – About five years ago, University of Connecticut Huskies head coach Ray Reid made a trip down to Dakar, Senegal to recruit a 17-year-old kid who he believed had star potential.
That wide-eyed 17-year-old was Mamadou Diouf, Vancouver Whitecaps FC's second round pick in Thursday's MLS SuperDraft.
Reid knew right away Diouf could play, but that was only part of the attraction. Despite the language barrier – Diouf had trouble speaking English at the time – the Huskies head coach saw someone who had the right head on his shoulders. Someone who had character. Someone who could be a great ambassador for the Huskies soccer program.
And over the last four years, that's exactly what he was – and then some.
"This guy is the best ... as a person and player," Reid told whitecapsfc.com. "He's done everything right at the university."
He's off to a good start with Vancouver, too.
Diouf's post-draft interviews on Thursday revealed the personality of a player who embodies Whitecaps FC’s "Our all. Our honour” motto.
He was humble.
“I just said to myself, ‘It’s fine, maybe that’s where I should be,’” Diouf said about falling to 30th overall when many had him pegged as a mid to late first-rounder. “I don’t take anything for granted. I just want to get better as a player and help my team, because that’s what’s important.”
He was grateful.
“It’s a big opportunity,” he said. “A lot of teams didn’t trust me. Vancouver trusted me and gave me this opportunity so I just want to thank them.”
And perhaps above all, he displayed a drive to succeed.
Watch Whitecaps FC striker Mamadou Diouf in action
“It’s important for a player like me to get out there, have nothing to say, and work hard,” he said. “I know one day I will get my opportunity, and when I do, I need to prove all the people who thought I wasn’t good enough wrong. I want to make the Whitecaps family happy and I want them to know that they have the right guy.”
If they haven’t already, Whitecaps FC fans will soon find out that Diouf is the right guy and player, according to Reid, his coach over four seasons at UConn.
What people saw from the new 'Caps striker on Thursday wasn’t a ploy to win over fans, Reid said. It’s just the type of person he is.
One of his teammates at UConn, Colin Bradley, was quoted in a Huskies press release as saying that Diouf always kept spirits high in the locker room and never let the spotlight get to his head.
"Every team needs a guy like him," said Bradley, who also called Diouf "the best forward" he's ever played with.
Another example of Diouf's character can be found in his commitment to the community: he was a regular volunteer with some of his Huskies teammates at Bolton Middle School in Connecticut.
There's also his commitment to family: Reid said that Diouf got a food cheque of about $4,000 from the school every year. And every year, he sent about $3,000 of it back home to his parents in Senegal.
"He’s not come from a lot in life and he’s thankful, respectful and loyal," Reid said. "And he’s tickled pink about going to Vancouver.”
Diouf, now 23, has yet to play a game for Whitecaps FC – in fact, he's never even been to Vancouver. But after getting selected by the ‘Caps in the second round of Thursday’s SuperDraft, the soft-spoken Senegal native made it clear there’s no place he’d rather be.
“I’m really happy and I’m excited because that’s the place I wanted to be,” said Diouf, who went back to Connecticut on Thursday night to write his final exam. “I wanted to visit Vancouver because that’s the best team in MLS … I just want to see the fans and get to know my teammates.”
Diouf, who led the Huskies with 15 goals in 2012, touched on a number of reasons why he’s “pumped” about the prospect of playing in Vancouver. He mentioned Whitecaps FC’s dedicated fan base on more than one occasion, referring to them as “the best fans in MLS.”
And, perhaps most surprisingly, Diouf revealed an affinity towards the local NHL team.
“I’m a big fan of the Canucks,” said Diouf, who was twice named to the ALL-BIG EAST first team as a member of the Huskies. “Chris Higgins, the Sedins … I love them. When I’m not playing soccer, I’m watching hockey.”
Just don’t expect the 6-foot-1, 170-pound centre forward, who can also play on the left wing, to change sports any time soon. He’s always been a soccer player, and according to Reid, he’s a player who is ready for MLS.
A recent Huskies press release dubbed Diouf as one of the program's "most prolific scorers in recent history." In that same release, Reid said he believes Diouf will do a "fantastic job" at the next level.
“He’s great in the air, very technical, and very good in the box,” Reid told whitecapsfc.com. “He missed about 13 games for us [due to an injury this past season], but when he came back down the stretch and in the playoffs, he was unbelievable.”
“He’s a big-time player,” Reid added. “I think Vancouver got a steal with this kid.”
Whitecaps FC 2014 season tickets start at just $349, subject to applicable fees. The 'Caps are also offering a flexible range of ticket products, including half-season tickets ($244), 5-packs ($149), student season tickets ($199), and a youth soccer half-season ticket ($100). For more information on all Whitecaps FC ticket options, call 604.669.9283 ext. 2 or visit whitecapsfc.com/tickets