Unwarranted path leads Dama to success

Maher Kawash, Basketball Reporter

If you ever played organized basketball in middle school or high school, then you have already been a basketball player longer than the starting center of the Eastern men’s basketball team.

But chances are he is still much better than you.

Muusa Dama is the name and he is a 6’9 junior college transfer and he has spent most of his life living in West Africa, but now he is taking the Ohio Valley Conference by storm.

It all started when he was just a junior in high school and he had never even played basketball; instead, he was a volleyball and soccer player.

Dama said he would always switch between those two sports until one day when he was practicing volleyball in West Africa and everything changed.

He was just spiking balls in a routine practice and coincidentally the volleyball court and basketball court were located right next to each other, where the opportunity to play basketball arose.

Dama said the assistant coach who was soon to be the head coach of that basketball club saw him practicing, and asked Dama if he could dunk the ball; He had no idea if he could or not.

“I figured I could because I can jump really high so I took the ball, and the coach said actually come the next day to practice and we’ll find out,” Dama said. “So I came the next day ready with my shoes on, and I dunked it once which led to like a two-hour session of dunks.”

Little did Dama know he would be catching lob-passes from his Panther teammates a few years later and finishing to send the crowds of Lantz Arena into an ecstatic roar.

Right after the dunking session with the assistant coach, Dama was asked to join the team where his basketball career would begin despite him nearing time to graduate high school.

His official days of basketball in America came when he moved to live with his dad in Pasadena, California as just a senior, and it has been a continuous grind of basketball ever since according to Dama.

With the lack of experience coming out of high school, Dama did not receive too many college offers but did find a starting point.

He began playing collegiate basketball for a four-year college in Kansas until he transferred to join Moberly Area Community College.

After his sophomore year came to a close, averaging about five points and five rebounds per game, Dama was recruited by Eastern coach Jay Spoonhour.

Spoonhour used to coach at that community college so he had a few connects with the people in that program and town.

And he said that everything anyone has ever said about Dama is what led him to recruiting him.

“I’m one of those guys who thinks that the kind of guy you are is more important than the kind of player you are,” Spoonhour said. “The coach loved him and so did everyone else in the town, and he is the exact person they said he was.”

From his days as a volleyball player in West Africa to being recruited by Spoonhour, just about everything has gone into his favor as well as Eastern’s favor.

He did have a special advantage when joining the Panthers as two other junior college transfers were brought in at the same time coming into this season.

Ray Crossland and Montell Goodwin have formed a special bond with Dama as they all share the same goal of trying to transition to playing Division I basketball.

“It was nice having them because I know Ray and Muusa would understand how hard we have to work,” Goodwin said. “We were a couple of the older guys on the team so we knew we would still have to be leaders at the same time.”

Goodwin also said the special bond was already close coming in because the three played against each other throughout their time in junior college.

Whether it is scoring nine of Eastern’s 15 points in an overtime victory over Southeast Missouri or his ability to average nearly 10 rebounds per game, Dama has given this team a special trait in numerous ways.

His transition has not been all easy though as Dama said he it has been a process and it could get frustrating at times.

“It’s difficult but it is just a challenge I appreciate every day,” Dama said. “I mean it gets especially tough sometimes when you see players doing stuff that you can’t do because you’ve never really practiced it.”

But since becoming a basketball player Dama has made it a focus to continue to learn new things and his teammates and coach have noticed that.

“If he continues to work on the right things he’ll be great,” Spoonhour said. “He’s not near what he’s going to be, but when he is he’s going to be outstanding.”

“It’s hard but I’m learning and I’m loving it,” Dama said.

Dama continues to craft his game in many ways to try and improve, and says he has specifically made sure to watch as much basketball he can.

“The game is really interesting to me. I want to know more so I’m always watching highlights of any big that ever played and the little plays they know,” Dama said.

While watching those highlights Dama said he has one particular player he admires that has nothing to do with his position, and that is Oklahoma City point guard Russell Westbrook.

As far as big men, Dama said he has always liked watching Tim Duncan and DeAndre Jordan when trying to learn new moves.

His learning has also had to come in places other than basketball as he has only lived in the United States for a few years.

Dama has spent time in Europe, South Africa, and West Africa and said he has witnessed many different cultures, but basketball and school wise he really loves America the most.

As Dama continues to transition into his life here he is choosing to stay in the U.S this summer instead of visiting home in West Africa.

As far as improving his game, Dama is focused on continuing to put work into his jump shot.

Dama is shooting 50 percent from the field this season, and said he would like to move his shot beyond the arch now.

With the game of basketball changing, many big men are expanding their shot so he would like to do so as well.

“It’s going to be hard work but I have to do it because it is open every time,” Dama said. “I don’t get a lot of time as a big man to put shots up, so that effort comes before and after to put the extra hours in.”

His coaches are there to help him along the way and that work ethic is something to be admired from their standpoint.

“The effort not being there is never the case with him,” Spoonhour said. “Whatever it may be I think you have to understand he is doing the absolute best he can do while trying to learn this game.”

Dama is nearing the end of his first season with the team, but after a summer to continue to improve on his already impressive numbers he is set to be a leader once again for the Panthers next season.

“I think I fell in the hands of the right coaches here because not knowing the game too well can be tough with the wrong coach,” Dama said. “But Spoonhour has had the patience in seeing the type of player I could become.

As Dama’s game continues to improve he still has one overall goal in mind after college; the NBA.

“I don’t know how long it will take but that’s where my eyes are right now, and I’ll keep working until I get there.”

Maher Kawash can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]