Papa "Dethie" Fall '12 is very much the typical Roanoke College student.
He plays video games, spends time with friends and dreams of a career after graduation - for him, working in the sports industry. He is known on campus for his lanky, 6'9 stature and his wide grin.
But therein lies one difference: Fall's young adult life is playing out on big screen.
Since last summer, Dethie (pronounced duth-AY') has traveled to film festivals throughout the country, promoting the new documentary movie, "Elevate."
The film follows four young men, including Fall, from the West African country of Senegal as they earn a high school education, learn the game of basketball and pave the way for college. Hoops becomes their ticket to a U.S. education.
"Elevate," produced and directed by Anne Buford, opened in box offices last year. It is making its way across the United States, spreading a story of hope and hoop dreams. Recently, it was one of 29 films chosen for the American Film Showcase, which presents award-winning U.S. films to international audiences through cultural events.
Traveling the country for "Elevate" has been an enriching experience for Fall.
"These kids are looking up to you," he said, explaining that after he talked about his life with a group of children at a San Francisco film festival last summer, he had at least 150 Facebook friend requests the next day. "You want to make an impact on somebody. Kids don't know how lucky they are."
Fall's journey begins in Senegal at the school that his uncle, Amadou Fall, a former Dallas Mavericks scout and vice president of development for the National Basketball Association in Africa, founded in 2003. The SEEDS (Sports for Education and Economic Development) Academy is a boarding school in Dakar, Senegal, that offers 10 months of classes and basketball training. Its mission is to help teenagers who do not have access to educational opportunities, earn scholarships to U.S. high schools, go to college and perhaps play in the NBA.
Fall had never picked up a basketball when he enrolled at SEEDS at age 16. But he arrived there just as video cameras started rolling.
Buford and her video crew began filming "Elevate" in 2005, with a mission to create a movie that would transform misconceptions of Africa.
The film, which runs 1 hour and 23 minutes, does not hide the struggles of the four young men as they adjust to life in the United States. That includes a scene that shows Fall learning to drive a car and another where a fight breaks out in South Kent School's locker room in Connecticut. Fall and Assane Sene, one of the other SEEDS players, try to break up the fight. The coach did not want the episode filmed.
It remains in the movie.
"We were clearly dealing with people going through a rough time and wanted to show how they were handling it," Buford stated on the movie's website. It's a "story of these kids getting a one-in-a million chance, but it's also a story that realistically reflects the difficulty of that process."
Fall landed at South Kent, along with Sene, who went on to play center on the University of Virginia men's basketball team.
American life was difficult for the young men. The climate was much colder than the 70- and 80-degree temperatures in Senegal.
Also, some of them were not immediately accepted by their American peers. In one movie scene, Sene recalls questions that people ask him - "Do you live with a lion? Do you live in a jungle?"
"I'm a person like you," Sene says he told them.
Learning to play U.S.-style basketball was not an easy for Fall. The game is much faster and physical than what Fall said he learned at SEEDS.
"I never played organized basketball," he said.
When applying to college, Fall learned about Roanoke from Andy O'Keefe '80, a friend of a SEEDS board member. Fall wanted to go to Princeton University, but his SAT scores were too low.
Buford's video crew followed him during his first visit to Roanoke.
Fall's story in "Elevate" ends with his decision to come to Roanoke College. The three other young men from SEEDS were accepted to study and play basketball at other schools, including UVa (Sene), Carroll College (Byago Diouf) and the University of Washington (Aziz N'Diaye).
Fall played center on Roanoke's men's basketball team for three years. He said he "got much better" at the game, but college basketball was a challenge for him.
"He was new to the game," said Page Moir, Roanoke men's basketball coach. "He did have some solid games for us. He's a very competitive kid."
Fall still loves basketball, but he is not playing for the Maroons this year to focus on school. He is majoring in economics and minoring in math. After graduation, Fall will return to South Kent School as an assistant basketball coach and possibly as a math teacher. Fall said he wants to help other SEEDS students come to South Kent.
"I imagine he could do whatever he puts his mind to, he's got that kind of personality," said Dr. Alice Kassens, an economics professor at Roanoke, who said Fall has an "intuitive" skill with mathematics.
Fall has a "big personality," she added. In class, "he always gives his answer with some kind of humor."
Fall's parents still live in Senegal. Eventually, he'd like to move back there. But first, he wants to start his career in the United States.
This May, when Fall steps onto the stage at Roanoke to accept his diploma, he will finish what he came to America to do: Earn an education.
"At the end of the day, that's all that matters," he said.
Learn more about "Elevate" at elevatethemovie.com.
-Jenny Kincaid Boone '01