Tucked away at Scotland Performance Institute in Chambersburg (PA) is a hidden gem who is now beginning to emerge.
Following his November arrival in the United States from Mali, Africa, 2016 prospect Cheickna Dembele initially flew under the radar. That can no longer be said of the 6-foot-11, 236-pound center who has received numerous offers in recent weeks and who now has Division I coaches stopping by at rapid speed.
One of the first schools to stop in was Iowa State. The Cyclones saw Dembele late last year before his recruitment heated up. They offered in early February.
“Iowa State came by here early, Coach [William] Small did. He’s the type of guy that is at a first-year program and Coach Small, he’s a guy who is in certain areas. He doesn’t go where everybody else normally goes,” Scotland coach Jareem Dowling said. “He happened to call me and said, ‘I want to come check you guys out.’ He came and he saw us early and he’s been on [Cheickna] ever since. He wasn’t as good as he is right now, but he saw the potential. Every time Coach Small has seen him, he’s gotten tremendously better.”
Other coaches have taken notice too. In addition to Iowa State, Dembele currently holds offers from Missouri, North Carolina State, St. Joseph’s, Charlotte and LaSalle. Many others have called to express interest or have stopped in, including Connecticut, Arkansas, Alabama, Florida, Syracuse, Southern Miss, Maryland, Georgetown, Temple, Iowa, Baylor, Oklahoma State and Arizona State.
A handful of schools — including N.C. State and Syracuse — will stop in to see Dembele play Sunday while Iowa State will be in to see the fast-rising prospect Tuesday with Small and head coach Steve Prohm.
Dembele, who has added 25 pounds since his November arrival in the U.S., is averaging 16 points, 11 rebounds and 4.5 blocks per game this season. Basketball, though, won’t be his biggest factor when a decision comes.
“It’s definitely about relationships,” Dowling said. “Pretty much that’s all it’s about for him. All he cares about is being around good people, being around a good staff and good teammates. That’s what he keeps saying, ‘Coach, I want to be with good people. I can’t think basketball. I want to be with good people.’ He’s an outstanding kid. He’s a really, really good human being.
“The biggest thing is who he’s familiar with. He’s been watching a lot of games on TV. [Iowa State] has been on TV a lot and he’s been seeing [them] play. He’s seen the crowds. He’s seen the intensity. He knows Coach Small. We’ve seen Coach Small several times and talked to him.”
Dembele will likely take only a few trips in late March before reaching a decision. That commitment, Dowling said, will likely come “in the first week or the middle of the first week” of the spring signing period, which begins April 13.
Wherever he goes, Dowling is confident Dembele can make an immediate impact.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that wherever Cheick decides to go, that he will be ready to contribute anywhere from 15 to 25 minutes a game as a freshman because his development is that rapid,” Dowling said. “He came here basically pre-cooked. It’s like going to Wal-Mart and they have those pre-cooked dinners and all you have to do is follow the instructions and it comes out good when you eat it. That’s pretty much Cheick. You put him in the oven and follow the directions that we’ve learned and keep giving it to him, he makes us look like we’re geniuses.”
The Scouting Report
Jareem Dowling on Dembele's game: I would describe his game as [Serge] Ibaka-ish from Oklahoma [City]. I would say he’s two steps behind Ibaka in the movement, in how quick he makes his movements. Right now he’s thinking a little bit too much but I think he’ll get that in the next couple of months. He came here pretty much pre-programmed. A lot of people like to take credit for developing kids but he came here pre-developed. All we wanted to do is not mess it up and just add to it. The best part about it is he was willing to learn in every factor from the right way to eat, the right way to lift, he’s receptive to our coaching.