‘We live in a tough city, so basketball is actually easy’
Souley Boum, the University of San Francisco’s slender star, was at a pizza shop when he found himself engaged in the conversation that would catapult his basketball life.
Then a rail-thin sophomore at Oakland Tech, unsure if he even had a future in collegiate hoops, Boum was at a pizza party/team meeting when an assistant coach challenged him to make a run for Oakland Athletic League MVP.
“Sure enough, he was the co-MVP that year,” Oakland Tech head coach Karega Hart recalled.
Boum won the award the following year, too.
Now a freshman on the Hilltop, and the leading scorer for the Dons, Boum is yet another noteworthy guard to grow out of Oakland — a city with a storied tradition of producing mega-talented players.
“He has the toughness. He has the grittiness of a kid from Oakland,” Hart said.
“I mean, most of the kids, most of the Oakland point guards and guards, they have the toughness that comes from being and living in the city.”
Jason Kidd, Gary Payton, Brian Shaw, Damian Lillard.
Nobody is paralleling Boum to those NBAers, but The Town connection is real.
Boum was a standout not only at Oakland Tech, but also for Team Lillard Basketball — one of the premier AAU setups in the region and the namesake of the Portland Trail Blazers two-time All-Star.
Beginning his sophomore year, Boum spent three summers going up against the best of the best in the travel-ball world.
“Even on the top circuit, the kid is just a dog,” Hart said. “He steps up to play anybody. Like it doesn’t matter who it is. He’s fearless.”
His final year on the Adidas Uprising Summer Circuit, Boum averaged 20.8 points, 5.0 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game.
“I mean, he killed it pretty much,” Hart said. “If you go back and look at that stuff, he has some phenomenal games on the Adidas Circuit.”
His 20.8 points-per-game made him the fifth-leading scorer in the 64-team league.
“It was big for his development because not only was he able to do show that he can do it on the high school level — here at Oakland Tech — but he can do it at the major level — at the same rate,” Hart explained.
Playing with Team Lillard taught Boum that his opponents were bigger and stronger but that they weren’t better.
It was a realization that extends to the present.
With the Dons, Boum, who was averaging 14.2 points per game going into Saturday’s match, jumps off the court. He splashes 3-pointers, swerves through the lane before making acrobatic layups, flashes on defense and dives for loose balls.
And he does it all while being listed at 6-foot-3, 145 pounds.
Hart chuckles when he hears that second figure.
“He’s not 145. That’s what he was when he graduated high school,” Hart insisted.
Hart believes his old charge is closer to 160 pounds. His current head coach, Kyle Smith, agrees. Smith also laughed when the 145-pound question is raised.
“I think he’s actually 155 now,” Smith said. “He’s slight but I think he might be 160 even. He really was about that [weight when he got here].”
Hart said the Dons have put Boum on a four-meal plan. He eats a second dinner at 10 o’clock, just before he goes to bed.
While Boum’s success has come faster than anybody — save Hart — could have expected, the step up from Oakland Tech and Team Lillard to the West Coast Conference is large.
“He’s a freshman and he’s going to get scouted hard,” Smith said after Boum scored nine points in Thursday’s 65-62 loss to Santa Clara.
Hart, who frequently watches the Dons at War Memorial Gym, knows Boum can still be too deferential, too afraid to step on toes. Against the Broncos, Boum didn’t attempt a shot in the first half.
“He’s learning. It’s a lot of responsibility,” Smith said. “It’s a big jump from high school — being a freshman and being our leading scorer. We need him out there because he’s a threat, but we want him to play within himself and play within the team. And when he does that, he does a good job.”
The Dons declined to make the freshman available for this story, citing a desire to limit distractions for the tailspinning team that entered the weekend 10-10 overall and 2-5 in WCC play — seventh in the conference.
With fellow combo guard Charles Minlend, the Dons’ only preseason all-conference selection, out for the season following labrum surgery, Boum has been thrust into the spotlight more than a year ahead of schedule. Hart said Boum is up for the challenge, calling him a burgeoning leader.
“He’s a warrior — like he cares about his peers and his friends,” Hart said. “Sometimes a little bit too much. But he cares about his community and the people around him and he works extremely hard and he’s focused.”
Boum already has experience thriving in big games and big moments with Oakland Tech and Team Lillard. Now, he translates that experience to the WCC stage.
“He’s not afraid of the moment. It’s just basketball,” Hart said. “And that’s what you get a lot from the guards from Oakland. We live in a tough city, so basketball is actually easy.”