SNU Inside Story: Oumoul Thiam

Written by Paul McGrady, SNU Athletics

“Being African to me is about not taking things for granted. It is about knowing that you don’t have a lot but still loving the little that you have.” Oumoul Khairy Thiam

She is more than just a young lady with a different sounding name who is a long way from home. Oumoul Thiam (pronounced oooh mooh) is a bit of a philosopher. She is a little like legendary college basketball Coach John Wooden in that way. These quotes and sayings seem to fuel her dreams.

“Don’t worry. Have faith. Live, laugh and love.”

The world is full of young athletes hoping to fulfill their dreams in the sport of basketball. Those who are born outside of the United States know that America is the center of the basketball universe. Oumoul Thiam is one of those athletes. Oumoul was born to a close knit religious family in the west African country of Senegal, the seventh of eight children. Her father was a headmaster at an elementary school in her hometown of St. Louis a city of 175,000 inhabitants on the Atlantic coast in far northwest Senegal. It doesn’t take long in being around Oumoul and listening to her, one realizes a special sense about her.

Oumoul seems to understand that greater forces are guiding her life. She says she 'discovered' basketball at 11 years of age on a hard cement outdoor court under the African sun. At that time, she also began to discover that she was blessed with a feathery left-handed shooting touch (honed on wooden backboards) that only a few possess. She grew 6’0 tall and slender and was blessed with speed and quickness. She experienced the death of her beloved father at the age of 13. Oumoul channeled her energy and emotions of loss into basketball. Four years later she had risen to elite status and one of the top players in her country.

“Being African is about a simple life. It is about loving one another and helping one another,” said Thiam.

Through what Oumoul describes as a divine series of events she was put into contact with former SNU women’s coach Lori Carter. Soon she had an opportunity to pursue her dream of a college education and playing basketball in the United States. The dream had some costs to it. For Oumoul, it meant leaving her beloved family and traveling 5,000 miles to Oklahoma. But opportunities like this come perhaps once in a lifetime.

Thiam stated, “College education means absolutely everything for my family and I. Getting my college degree would mean that all I have worked for till now, all those sacrifices along the way have paid off.” She believed it was worth leaving her family and living half a world away from her homeland. “I am too blessed to be stressed.”

The Christian community of SNU became her home away from home. She describes her experience in this way, “When I got here a lot of things were different; however there was a real sense of community which made me feel like I belonged. It is definitely about something that I was not around growing up. However I respect their methods. I respect their belief. SNU has been my home for the past four years and I could not have asked for a better school to pursue my dreams. SNU is the place where professors care for students and where the community helps students no matter where they came from. They have made me feel appreciated and important.”

The last four years Oumoul’s has been a successful guard for the SNU Crimson Storm. She led the team in scoring as a junior with 13.3 points per game. She earned honorable mention on the NAIA All American team. In this her senior year under first year coach Derek Dorris, Thiam has exploded as a scoring threat! She leads the NCAA Division 2 Great American Conference in scoring with 24.8 points per game on 50% shooting from the field, 46% from 3-point range and 85% from the free throw line.

When asked about her observations about American people compared to her African culture, she shares these insights “ Americans in general seem to have a ‘time is money’ mindset. Therefore they spend most of their time looking at the clock and rushing to try to accomplish things instead of just taking a little break and enjoying what they already have. They are too caught up working for tomorrow when tomorrow is not always promised.”

Oumoul continues “I was just a girl with a huge dream. My chances to realize that dream was like one in a million and I was aware of that. However, I believed that if I had faith in the dream enough it would become true. I am blessed beyond words with this opportunity. Millions of kids in Senegal alone would do anything to be where I am right now! Although it may be difficult at times especially being away from my family, I strongly believe that I am not given more than I can handle.”

Oumoul Khairy Thiam’s background, principles and philosophies have helped fuel the actualization of her dreams.

Southern Nazarene University's mission is to transform lives through higher education in Christ-centered community. As a Christian community of scholars, we model the hospitality of grace, the pursuit of truth and the practice of discipleship, all within the Wesleyan-holiness tradition, as we prepare graduates who THINK with clarity, ACT with integrity and SERVE with purpose.