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Players wearing headscarves in the women’s NCAA Tournament aim to encourage others

By DOUG FEINBERG (AP Basketball Writer) N.C. State’s Jannah Eissa and UC Irvine’s Diaba Konate are bringing visibility and inspiration to some Muslim women by wearing hijabs while they play basketball. They aren’t the first women to do it in

By DOUG FEINBERG (AP Basketball Writer)

Both N.C. State's Jannah Eissa and UC Irvine's Diaba Konate are making Muslim women more visible and inspiring by playing basketball while wearing headscarves.

Although they are not the first to do so in NCAA Tournament play, their actions are attracting attention due to the high number of viewers and attendees.

Konate expressed the importance of representation, stating that it brings her joy to be a role model for young Muslim women who are not yet represented in the sport. She also mentioned the positive impact of having people look up to her, as she once looked up to others.

Konate admires Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir, who made history by being the first to wear a headscarf in college basketball a decade ago and played for Memphis. Abdul-Qaadir played a key role in convincing FIBA to lift its ban on headgear in 2017.

Former UConn player Batouly Camara, who was among the first to wear a headscarf in Spain’s LF1 league, is pleased to see Eissa and Konate representing their religion.

Camara finds it inspiring to witness these two Muslim athletes competing at the highest level. She believes that the tournament is a significant moment that sheds light on the best teams and showcases the athletes' faith, sending a powerful message to girls worldwide.

Konate started 31 of 32 games for UC Irvine and averaged 7.5 points and nearly four assists. She moved to the U.S. from France on a scholarship from Idaho State and later transferred to UC Irvine.

Konate hopes to play in a headscarf in her home country of France, where she previously won two medals playing on their youth teams. Currently, the French Federation of Basketball prohibits the wearing of any religious or politically affiliated equipment.

Konate, who started wearing the headscarf in 2020 and is from France, expressed disappointment over not being able to represent her true self while hosting the Olympics. She remains hopeful for change.

Eissa and Konate are familiar with each other, even though they have never met.

Eissa expressed her happiness upon learning about another woman wearing a headscarf, indicating that she recently came across a post about it.

Eissa, who turned 18 in February, joined N.C. State as a walk-on after trying out in September. She had limited playtime this season, appearing in only 11 games and scoring one 3-pointer.

During the season, a group of young Muslim girls attended Eissa's game and continued to show their support at subsequent games.

Eissa was surprised to find out she had become a role model for young girls who attended her games but who she didn't know. She expressed her happiness at having such a positive impact on them.

Eissa picked N.C. State because her father earned his PhD there and her two older sisters are students at the university.

She mentioned that when she's not feeling her best, she thinks about her young fans and it makes her smile.

Eissa expressed, "If they see someone offering them hope, I'm glad that I'm the one to provide it to them. I aim to achieve as much as I can to inspire the image of women in hijabs."

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AP March Madness bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-womens-bracket/ and coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness

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