KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Souley Boum never played on a losing team at his previous two schools. He also never played in an NCAA Tournament.
So Boum is savoring every moment of his one and only season at Xavier, the school he chose because he felt it gave him his best opportunity to play in March Madness. The joy on his face was obvious as he sat down with teammates to meet the media Thursday to discuss the Musketeers’ Midwest Region semifinal matchup against Texas on Friday night.
“I still can’t believe that I’m up here today with these guys,” Boum said. “It’s just been a dream come true, and I’m happy that I’m here. This is what I came here for.”
Xavier might not be at the Sweet 16 if it weren’t for the addition of Boum. He’s elevated a program that won the NIT a year ago and is now bidding to make a regional final in the first season of coach Sean Miller’s second stint at the school.
Boum will face his old coach from UTEP, Rodney Terry, who has served as Texas’ interim coach since Chris Beard’s firing in December.
“It’s crazy because it just shows you how everything comes full circle,” Boum said. “We have a great relationship. I know he cares about me. I care about him.”
Boum said Terry has stayed in touch, and Terry texted him a couple times this week to tell him he’s happy for him.
“Stuff like this, it rarely happens,” Boum said. “So I’m just trying to soak it all in, appreciate everything about it. I’m just going to try to do my best to give him some fits tomorrow.”
Terry said Boum is one of his favorite players to coach, that he’s “wired to score,” and that his drive to win is his greatest attribute.
“Love him like my own son,” Terry said. “We’ll be major competitors come Friday night, though. He wants to win. I want to win.”
Boum has been a do-it-all player for the Musketeers. He’s second in the Big East in scoring, third in 3-point shooting, free-throw shooting and minutes, and fourth in assist-turnover ratio. He arrived in Kansas City with more than 2,400 career points.
“Could I have projected he would be a first-team All-Big East player? No way,” Miller said. “Not that I didn’t think he’d be as good as he is, but he’s been a super player for us. If you talk to other coaches in the Big East, they’ll tell you he’s a big difference in our team.”
Boum was expected to give the Musketeers a big jolt on the offensive end, and he’s done that by averaging 16.5 points per game, but he also melded with his teammates immediately.
“I feel like we all clicked together,” Colby Jones said, “and Souley just kind of came in and was that fifth piece we needed.”
Boum has made the difference between winning and losing on multiple occasions. Xavier has nine wins by five points or fewer. He’s 33 for 34 on free throws in the final minute of the last 21 games.
“He has that clutch gene in him,” Adam Kunkel said.
The 24-year-old Boum was born in Oakland, California, two years after his mother, Mariam Diallo Eyenga, immigrated from the West African country of Guinea.
He was under-recruited coming out of high school and landed at San Francisco, where he made the West Coast Conference all-freshman team. Boum transferred to UTEP and had to sit out a season under the NCAA’s previous transfer rules. Boum played his last season at UTEP for Joe Golding, who took over after Terry left for an assistant’s job at Texas. He scored at least 20 points in nine of his last 12 games for the Miners.
Miller saw Boum score 16 points for UTEP in a 69-61 loss to Miller’s Arizona team two years ago. When Boum went into the transfer portal after last season, Miller knew he wanted him.
“He came to us for all the right reasons,” Miller said, “and he’s meshed with the group and our team and our university, in almost like a seamless way, as if he has been with us longer than a year. It’s going to be sad when he goes.”
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