How Al Amadou went from novice to Division 1 prospect

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Al Amadou is a 4-star recruit in the class of 2023 from the Philadelphia area. (Photo courtesy of Al Amadou).

Four years ago, when eighth grader Al Amadou stepped onto a basketball court in a Southwest Philadelphia park, he was far from the basketball player that he is today. In fact, he had never touched a basketball before that moment.

That was until he played against his cousins.

“It was definitely more streetball,” Amadou recalled of his earliest basketball memory.

He stepped onto the court not knowing how to handle the ball or get the perfect arc on a shot. But as soon as Amadou put his hand on the basketball, he found a love for the game.

“I remember coming home and starting to like it more,” Amadou said.

Fast forward to the present day, the now 6-foot-9 power forward is set to play Division I basketball over 800 miles from that very playground after committing to the Golden Eagles Aug. 18. Amadou joins Zaide Lowery in head coach Shaka Smart’s 2023 recruiting class.

Amadou recently spoke to the Marquette Wire following his commitment to the Golden Eagles. 

Here is more on Marquette men’s basketball’s newest recruit:

Learning the Basics

Prior to Amadou becoming a four-star recruit, he had to work on his craft from the ground up. 

Growing up in Quakertown, Pennsylvania, Amadou spent most of the summer before his first year of high school at the local YMCA.

It was here that Amadou crossed paths with Jay Joseph, the Director of the PA Runnin’ Aces AAU program.

“He had the size, length and everything so you could see the potential,” Joseph said. “But it was a lot of YMCA playing with friends, throwing up half court shots and a lot of nothing real serious.”

So, shortly after that first encounter, Joseph had Amadou return to the YMCA on a daily basis to train and “work on every part of his game.”

“I made sure he was doing everything the guards were doing because if he could be at that height handling the ball and shooting the ball, it just opens up more opportunities for him,” Joseph said. 

Over the course of the next year, Joseph and Amadou worked on improving his fundamentals. 

“His strength was still a work in progress, but any drill we started doing, he went 100%. He really focused and never joked around, was always serious,” Joseph said. “So we did pace drills, guard drills, hammering the ball and shooting the ball. He really took off.” 

After competing for Runnin’ Aces for a year, Joseph brought Amadou to the attention of Philly Pride AAU. It was a move both thought would allow Amadou’s development to advance to the next level.

But, in 2018, Amadou’s progression was hit with two unexpected roadblocks.

Within a span of 14 days, Amadou was faced with the loss of both his father and uncle. He lost his father due to a heart attack while his uncle died from an illness. 

While Amadou tried to cope with these losses, he had his moments of grieving and breaking down. However, he had an escape: basketball. 

“It took my mind off of it and at the same time, it helped me manage it better (which) I had not noticed until a while after,” Amadou said. “Obviously it hurt because I understood what happened but I got to process it and got over it.” 

Joseph said, along with the support staff that Philly Pride Director Kamal Yard and himself created for Amadou, he has seen him become “as strong as a kid he is.” 

“He really helped his mom out and (has) been there for her. His mom and dad have such a great relationship,” Joseph said. “He’s been fantastic as far as being able to juggle basketball, AAU and dealing with loss. He’s been such a strong kid and hasn’t really lost a step on the court or in the classroom.” 

As Amadou’s game continued to progress, a move for stiffer competition was in store. He transferred to Bishop McDevitt of the Philadelphia Catholic League for his sophomore year. 

It was with the Lancers that Amadou said he experienced his biggest jump in his game due to battles with talents like Jalen Duren, who is now with the Detroit Pistons, and University of Miami guard Isaiah Wong. 

But the Archdiocese of Philadelphia closed McDevitt, forcing Amadou to transfer to Springside Chestnut Hill Academy. Amadou also decided to re-class into the Class of 2023 after transferring to SCHA. 

“After McDevitt, I kind of changed,” Amadou said. “There was a lot more I was able to do with my game (and) I was way more confident.” 

Last summer, Amadou started turning heads on the AAU circuit with Philly Pride. It was also at this time where he experienced a “turning point” in his career. 

“That is when I really became versatile,” Amadou said. “I started doing a whole bunch of different things, putting the ball on the floor, getting past defenders and (with) rebounding I just became super aggressive.” 

Amadou’s fit with Marquette 

With Amadou’s commitment to the Golden Eagles, Smart has secured a key piece for his front court in the coming years. 

Amadou, who is the No. 103 recruit on the 247Sports list of recruits for the class of 2023, was a top target for the Golden Eagles’ coaching staff, which made a difference in Amadou’s recruitment.

“It was crazy,” Amadou said. “They actually cared about me and came down to my school a couple times. They had a coach at every game at the last (NCAA evaluation) session.” 

He said it was “easy” to build a relationship with Smart and assistant coach Cody Hatt, who served as the “main guy” for Amadou amongst Smart’s assistants. 

Amadou said Smart and his staff differentiated themselves from other coaches in conversations which allowed Amadou to build personal relationships with them. 

“Other coaches were like, ‘Come to Georgia Tech just because it is Georgia Tech, we will do this for you.’ It wasn’t about that with Coach Smart,” Amadou said. “It was, ‘What’s up? How was your day? How are you doing?’ It was different. They (Smart’s staff) were calm about it, I don’t know how to explain it.” 

Amadou said he created a close relationship with Smart over the process. 

“He spent time with me when he came to my house and talked to my mom,” Amadou said. “We talk a lot about life in general, basketball too, but those talks built kind of the relationship of me feeling comfortable to call him anytime and say ‘What’s up?'”

As for the type of player Smart is receiving off the court, Joseph said a mature one. 

“Talking to Al is like talking to a son,” Joseph said. “You are talking to a really educated kid. He  understands being coached and can take being criticized constructively. Real tough kid, great kid off the floor whose kids just gravitate to. 

“He has that type of energy and that type of charisma about him that I know coaches like. As a high character kid (like him), what he brings to the locker room is positive energy (which) is just remarkable.”

Amadou is the type of big man that Smart likes to cater towards with his length, athleticism and versatility. He said the Marquette coaching staff has compared him to junior forward Oso Ighodaro and Justin Lewis, who is now with the Chicago Bulls. 

“That’s the thing, I was kind of a mix of both,” Amadou said. “I would say I am more like Oso because he puts the ball on the floor and blocks shots. (However) the plan was that they had me a little bit like Justin as a big running the floor but also from time to time come off the screen for a shot.” 

Amadou made his official visit to Marquette last September. He said attending a historic basketball school like Marquette was important for him. 

“There was a lot about Marquette that screamed to me to go there,” Amadou said. “D-Wade (played there in) 2003, I was born in 2003 so there were a lot of little things that were really cool.”

In fact, his first name will even appear on the front of the jersey, as the Golden Eagles wear an “Al” logo honoring Coach Al McGuire.

“To just have my name on the jersey, I know it’s not mine but it’s still cool to me,” Amadou remarked. 

Reuniting with Mitchell  

Amadou is the second Marquette player to come out of Philly Pride in recent years.

While the two weren’t teammates on the AAU circuit, Amadou will team-up with sophomore Stevie Mitchell, who played for Philly Pride when the program claimed a national championship in the summer of 2019. 

“It’s funny because of how bad I was, so now (that) we’re both at the same school it’s like ‘damn,'” Amadou said. “It’s going to be dope because I like Stevie, that’s my boy. It is going to be my first time playing with Stevie too which is going to be pretty cool.” 

This article was written by John Leuzzi. He can be reached at john.leuzzi@marquette.edu or on Twitter @JohnLeuzziMU.