Sanogo leads UConn to national title while fasting

The NCAA Tournament is a college basketball battle of attrition, with the eventual champion being the team that, among other factors, best overcomes fatigue and a grueling schedule to emerge victorious.

Take the University of Connecticut men’s basketball team, for example. To win the 2023 tournament and earn the program’s fifth national championship in its history, the Huskies had to win six games in three different cities during an 18-day stretch between March 17 and April 3. At each stop — Albany, N.Y.; Las Vegas; and Houston — they played two games with one day of rest in between.

It takes a well-conditioned and disciplined athlete to thrive consistently throughout the gauntlet. Now imagine what it’s like for an athlete who is fasting during daylight hours, going without food and water leading up to and even during important practices and must-win games.

UConn forward Adama Sanogo, a practicing Muslim who grew up in Mali before moving to the United States to pursue his basketball dreams, just did exactly that.

Sanogo was voted Most Outstanding Player of the tournament after averaging 19.6 points and 9.8 rebounds in UConn’s six-game run to the title. In the championship-clinching win over San Diego State, the 6-foot-9 junior had 17 points and 10 rebounds. Four of those six games took place during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan — which began March 23 — when Muslims around the world take part in the fast. Two of Sanogo’s teammates, reserve guard Hassan Diarra and reserve forward Samson Johnson, are also fasting for Ramadan.

A local TV station in Connecticut spoke with Akber Khan, one of Sanogo’s friends, who shared a glimpse into the basketball star’s experience. “He told me it’s tricky. He really wants water when he’s playing,” Khan was quoted. “You know, you have a dry throat; you haven’t been drinking water all day. Your body cramps up.”

Speaking to CBS Sports, Sanogo described some of his Ramadan routine.

“From (sundown) to like 5 a.m. the next morning, I eat a lot of food with protein,” Sanogo said. “My strength coach, he makes sure I drink a lot, I hydrate — and hydrate a lot. For example, I wake up at five, drink a lot of water to make sure during that day I stay hydrated. That’s what we’re doing right now, wake up at 5 a.m., drink a lot of coconut water to make sure I stay hydrated during the day.”

Since Ramadan falls during different points of the Gregorian calendar, it impacts athletes in different sports in different ways throughout the year. This year’s Ramadan (March 23 to April 22) could present basketball, hockey, and baseball players who want to fast with a tough decision to make, as those sports are either getting into the playoffs or just getting their season rolling. In other years, it could be football players in the middle of training camp, or track and field athletes preparing for major outdoor competitions. Of course, athletes in year-round sports like boxing and MMA always have to account for the rigors of Ramadan at a time when they’re training.

Some athletes choose to go ahead and fast no matter what obstacles are involved with their sport; others choose to engage in modified fasting; others skip the fast altogether, knowing they can make up the days later in the year when they’re not in middle of intense training.

Quran 2:185Ramadan is the month in which the Quran was revealed as a guide for humanity with clear proofs of guidance and the standard [to distinguish between right and wrong]. So whoever is present this month, let them fast. But whoever is ill or on a journey, then [let them fast] an equal number of days [after Ramadan]. Allah intends ease for you, not hardship, so that you may complete the prescribed period and proclaim the greatness of Allah for guiding you, and perhaps you will be grateful.

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