UConn players sail fast through Ramadan during the Final Four

HOUSTON (AP) — For UConn players Adama Sanogo, Samson Johnson and Hassan Diarra, a traditional pregame meal before Saturday night’s Final Four game against Miami won’t be possible.

The three are Muslims who observe Ramadan and have started a strict dawn-to-sunset fast every day from March 22 until April 20. Ramadan is the Muslim holy month and is a time of deep spiritual discipline and contemplation of one’s relationship with God.

With the sun setting in Houston just 10 minutes before the 7:49 p.m. kickoff, players will barely have time to eat a snack and drink before heading to the field against the Hurricanes.

“I’m going to drink my coconut water and eat fruit,” said Sanogo, the team’s leading scorer. “That’s all I need to prepare for the game and everything will be fine.”

James Doran is the team’s associate head athletic coach and the man responsible for making sure all three players have what they need to play basketball while fasting. He said the key is planning.

“All we did was interview them all and say, ‘What do you want from your fast? and they’ve all been doing it for so long that they know exactly what they want right out of the fast,” Doran said.

While Sanogo prefers fruit and coconut water, Johnson and Diarra often opt for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and sports drinks.

All three say that while fasting during the tournament can be tough, they’ve been doing it for so long that it’s like second nature for them to keep going this week.

“It’s not an easy task…but just have faith and believe in God and everything you do becomes easier,” Johnson said. “Over time I got used to it and it’s much easier for me now.”

Players aren’t worried about fasting during the tournament, but the same can’t be said for UConn coach Dan Hurley.

“For me, as a coach, navigating it felt more like panic,” he said. “And I don’t know much about food, nutrition and human performance. But we have a great strength trainer and athletic trainer who was able to get up early with (Sanogo) and give him some food. And then obviously the late tip time helps us more.

“It was a bigger challenge in the West because we were playing so early, and it felt like really in the middle of (Sanogo) was probably at his weakest in terms of those things.”

For example, their match against Gonzaga last Saturday in Las Vegas started so early that all three players couldn’t eat until halftime. That left them with less than 10 minutes to grab some bananas and sports drinks before heading back to the field.

All three players said they woke up around 5 a.m. to eat before their daily fast began. None of them eat breakfast food, with all three opting for meals that include steak for their morning meal.

Diarra said it’s not the lack of food that affects him the most, but rather that he can’t take a sip of water if a game or practice takes place during fasting hours.

“It can be very, very, very difficult at times,” he said. “The hardest thing is not being able to drink or hydrate throughout the match, throughout training. It can be difficult at times, but we find a way to get through and do it.

For this reason, Doran and the staff strive to ensure that they eat and drink the right things when they can to support the physical exertion.

“We really make sure they get a lot of electrolytes while they’re not fasting,” he said. “Because making sure they’re loaded with electrolytes will help them retain more water while they’re not allowed to drink or hydrate.”

As the smell of food awaiting the rest of the squad wafted through the locker room on Friday, Diarra was asked if such situations made it harder to fast.

He said no, but noted temptations that come from another source.

“It’s mostly on social media,” he said. “You don’t want to think about it, but it just shows up on your newsfeed. Recipes, great food and restaurants, that’s the hardest part.


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