Fourth-year international student and second-year Varsity Eagles guard Hassan Manjang lived in ten different countries before finally moving to Canada when he was 13 years old.
Manjang is from Banjul, Gambia, but has lived all over the world thanks to his father’s job as CFO for a growing European bank, Standard Chartered. Hassan was born in Kenya before he moved to the UK and lived there until he was three years old. From the UK, he moved to Abidjan in the Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), and then to Banjul, Gambia, his hometown. The moving didn’t stop there. Hassan lived in South Africa, Botswana, and the United Arab Emirates in Dubai. And from there to Canada where he’s now lived for almost ten years.
Manjang’s father made company history by becoming the first ever black CFO. That accolade garnered his father a lot of opportunities. They trusted his judgement and stationed him, and consequently his family, in different areas and as the company was trying to expand in Europe, Asia and Africa. The company paid for their family to move and live in different areas, their housing and schooling. Hassan’s parents worried about the impact their constant moving would have on his and his twin sister’s future. An older cousin already attending a boarding school, Columbia College, in Hamilton, Ontario, eased a decision to move to North America. For Manjang, it was a wish come true, who through all the moving had always wanted to live in North America.
Manjang started at UTM in 2016 in criminology. Now in his fourth year, Manjang is completing a double major in political Science and sociology.
Coming to UTM made a lot of sense for Hassan, and he enjoyed the overall atmosphere. “I was used to international schools, where everyone is international. At UTM for that first year, it was the first time I was surrounded by Canadian students. Not just people who grew up here, but international students like me. I assimilated well and at the same time I felt accepted for being my own culturally different person.”
Moving and living in so many different places offered Hassan the opportunity to meet different kinds of people from various parts of the world. But never staying long in one place for very long came at a cost. “I don’t have any childhood friends. But the guys I met here, the people I’ve met here, they’ve become like my family.”
Hassan didn’t start playing basketball until 2013. Up until that point, Manjang was on his way to becoming a pro skateboarder. When he was living in Dubai, he participated in a number of skateboarding tournaments. Despite being younger than the competition at 12 years old, he did well, finishing in fourth and fifth place.
He was set to participate in an upcoming tournament when he was contacted by Flip Skateboarding, a global skating brand. If he could medal the upcoming tournament, they were going to sponsor him. In the weeks leading up to the contest he practiced hard, determined to get that sponsorship.
Two weeks before the tournament, he suffered an injury, breaking his left shin. He faced a year and a half recovery time. In his recovery, he discovered the Electronic Arts 2k NBA sports game, NBA 2K11, and fell in love with Dwayne Wade. “He’s the reason I started playing basketball. I started researching him and watching his videos.”
Hassan and his peers began to notice he could have potential if he actually played the sport. In 2013, Manjang started his basketball journey and realized how much more he liked the sport compared to skateboarding. “It was way easier than skateboarding to get better. That was the first thing I noticed. With skateboarding you could practice the same trick for so long and still be bad. But with basketball, with determination, you get better. Basketball taught me a lot of things. How to persevere, [how] to keep a good circle of friends and, [how to be] healthy.”
Manjang didn’t become a member of UTM’s Men’s Varsity Eagles basketball team until his third year at UTM. Like many university students, he had problems adjusting. “I wasn’t accustomed to the UTM grind. My grades weren’t good at all. My GPA was horrible and I was put on academic probation. In my second year, it was the first time since grade eight that I wasn’t on the top basketball team at my school.”
Manjang was devastated, but became determined to turn things around. He worked tirelessly both on the court and in the classroom. “Everyday day I lived in the gym. I wasn’t playing ball everyday. Not just lifting but working on different finishes. And I was doing the library grind. I was coming in to lift and work on the basketball court really early. I was coming in at 6:00 a.m. to about seven or eight. After, I’d grab breakfast and then go to the library. That was my schedule everyday of second year.”
In his third year, Hassan finally made the Varsity roster. Hassan had always dreamed of playing at the NCAA level, but didn’t think he worked hard enough to get there. But he’s realized that playing at the OCAA level, one of the highest levels of play in Canada, is still impressive and something to be proud of. “Canada is one of the better countries in the world for basketball. And I’m playing at one of the highest levels. No matter what my stats are, I can get on the court and hold my own anywhere else in the world. That gives me a lot of gratitude.”
Despite having attended multiple international schools and living in three different continents, two instances changed Hassan’s perspective on life and his future: the end of the Gambian dictatorship and the sum ‘six dollars and 35 cents.’
Manjang describes his hometown of Banjul, Gambia as “underdeveloped, but full of fun, good, kind-hearted people.” His interest in International Relations comes from a harrowing experience he had at the start of his first fall semester at UTM—the fall of the 22-year-long Gambian dictatorship. He couldn’t go home, and couldn’t contact his parents who were there. All information and communication had been cut off to Gambia.
“I realized that the only reason this is even allowed to happen is because those in leadership positions aren’t actually leading in a very democratic and fair way. So, there’s much leeway for abuse of rules and power. And I felt that. I experienced that—waking up every morning and wondering if everyone at home was okay. At the same time, I had to come to school and act like nothing was wrong because no one really cares.”
Manjang has hopes of one day having a part in reforming the United Nations. “My goal would be to try to reform the UN because countries like Gambia need help. They don’t help these countries. Arica doesn’t get a lot of credibility. That’s what I hope to do by getting an education here.”
The second experience that changed Hassan’s perspective on life came when he went back home to Gambia for Christmas. His dad’s friend, whose son is Hassan’s age, works at a farm mixing cement. “He’ll work from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. everyday, and he’ll make the equivalent of six dollars and 35 cents from manual labor. Here (in Canada), it’s nothing. Even in Gambia, it’s nothing.”
This knowledge forced him to re-evaluate his attitude toward the obstacles and problems he faces in his own life. “[What my dad’s friend goes through is] a real problem. Having five turnovers in one game is not. You have another game in that same week, so you’ll have another chance to make it up. It’s not really a problem.”
Manjang still has another year left ahead of him at UTM, but he hopes that he’s on course to leave behind a lasting impression on the UTM Athletic community. “I feel like when I leave this school I want to be known as a very persistent, determined individual who doesn’t let obstacles or other people’s opinions from stopping me. I want to be remembered as someone who never quit, no matter what my scenario was, no matter if I got the playing time.”
“My advice for athletes coming in would be [to have a] selfless [attitude], because there will always be a time you will be selfish and want the play time. That type of thinking will only draw you further away from what you want. You have to understand where you are, control what you can control; be the first one at practice, eager to ask questions, be able to take coaching even if you feel their wrong. If you can do all those things you can guarantee yourself an opportunity each game to get on the floor. And from there you have to take it game by game and continue to have confidence in yourself. If you don’t have confidence and believe in yourself, who will?”