Basketball wasn’t always in the cards for Martlet basketball centre Sirah Diarra. The 6’1” fourth-year transfer tried her hand at a variety of sports, including soccer, tennis, and figure skating, before joining her high school basketball team. She was not solely focused on sports: Diarra also devoted her time to music.
“I used to play the saxophone,” Diarra said in an interview with The McGill Tribune. “I played for five years, up until I was 17.”
Ultimately, Diarra put the saxophone aside when she started investing more time in basketball. Despite her late entrance to the sport, Diarra found that she had a natural talent for it and developed a love for the game.
“I remember thinking, ‘I’m tall, and I’m good at it,’” Diarra said. “I would just sit in the paint, turn around and score, and I loved it.”
After high school, Diarra went on to play basketball at College Champlain St. Lambert. In the summer after her first year of CEGEP, she first thought about playing university basketball; by the following summer, she had set her sights on playing basketball at the next level.
“When I entered CEGEP, I never thought, ‘I’m going to play [basketball] in the [United States]’ or ‘I’m going to play university basketball,’” Diarra said. “It was never a dream. Over time, it became something that I wanted.”
Diarra was recruited by several schools in the US and Canada, but, ultimately, she headed to South Carolina to play Division I basketball for the Clemson Tigers after she graduated from CEGEP. Basketball in the United States is extremely competitive, but the challenge was highly influential in Diarra’s decision to play in the NCAA.
“I wanted a new experience and to get out of my comfort zone,” Diarra said. “More than anything, it was the challenge.”
Diarra graduated after three years at Clemson University with a BA in psychology. She returned home to Quebec to play basketball for McGill while continuing her education.
Playing Division I basketball in the NCAA, she faced some of the top collegiate players in the world, but the RSEQ boasts its own share of fierce competitors and presents new challenges to Diarra.
“There are some aspects here [in the RSEQ] that are harder,” Diarra said. “In the States, you play a team once, and you’re done, see you next year. Here, you see a team multiple times a month. Now, everyone knows your flaws and strengths, and you have to find a way to adjust to that.”
Diarra entered her first season as a Martlet after undergoing surgery on both of her knees: She had a lateral tear in her left and medial and lateral tears in her right. Diarra faced the challenge head-on and is adjusting to the RSEQ’s fast-paced playing style, averaging 10.9 points and 10.5 rebounds per game. Given the Martlets seven consecutive RSEQ championship wins, the pressure is on for Diarra to continue to perform well.
“Knowing [that] the team has been successful the past seven years is something that’s always in the back of my head,” Diarra said. “No one wants to be on the team that ends the streak. We’re either going to make it happen, or we’re not. It takes everyone on the team to make it happen, but knowing I have a major role to play is pressure added because of the impact I know I can have on this team.”
The Martlets are currently ranked third in their conference behind Laval and Concordia. With the regular season winding down, Diarra will be put to the test as she leads the Martlets in their journey for an eighth straight RSEQ championship.