What’s not to love about Aziz N’Diaye (far left)? He’s 7 feet tall. He enjoys blocking shots, rebounding and playing defense. He’s muscular and chiseled like few big men. Despite a broken nose and while recovering from knee surgery, he ran the mile in 5:21.
So I ask again, what’s not to love about N’Diaye? When basketball coaches make Christmas lists. they ask for guys like N’Diaye.
Had a chance to catchup with him this week and wrote a story for the newspaper and website.
In the piece I asked Lorenzo Romar if N’Diaye fits into UW’s system and the Huskies coach said he’ll fully utilize the big man’s defensive prowess. Romar also doesn’t believe the big man will slow Washington’s up-tempo attack, which is built around its talented corps of guards including Isaiah Thomas (far right).
N’Diaye, a sophomore with three years of eligibility, is unlike any player Romar has had at UW. His background makes him unique and his potential makes him intriguing. He could finish his career as the most dominant defensive player in Husky history and that’s saying a lot.
Before he re-writes the record books, N’Diaye has to work himself back into shape after missing a year recovering from ACL surgery on his left knee.
Photo credit: Seattle Times – Mark Harrison
Here’s the interview.
(What’s your thoughts so far on the team?) “I’m fine so far. I’m enjoying it here. I’m not complaining. I’m just focused on going to school and working hard in practice.”
(Who has surprised you the most?) “I was surprised by the team and coach Romar how he’s a really good teacher. How he takes his time. Teaching is the right thing to do and everybody on the court tries to get better. That stuff just motivates me. Every day coming into practice, I know I’m not the only one that wants to get better.”
(Is being here everything you thought it would be?) “So far yeah. I expected from the recruiting process, coach Romar he never (told) me something that he hasn’t done. And I’ve never heard something bad about him. So far, I’m good. I’m just happy that I made the right decision.”
(Did coming to UW this summer help with the adjustment?) “Yeah. It helped me a lot because coming back from an injury this summer, I needed to have a really good summer. So I was just working on my game, working on my knee getting back. Coming up early here helped me out. I figured out things. I (took) a class and getting used to going around campus and stuff. It helped me a lot.”
(How is your knee?)
“My knee is fine. I feel like it’s 100 percent. If I just keep doing what I’m supposed to be doing and just going through the season, I feel like it’s going to be better and better.”
(Do you think about it? Does it ever bother you?) “Not really. It kind of gets sore a little bit, but that’s normal. I had surgery on it. But I think the quad muscle is all the back. I’m just trying to build that confidence coming back. I’m not worried.”
(When did you have the surgery?) “It was last year. I don’t remember the exact day. June 25 or something. It’s been like a year.”
(And what did the surgery repair?) “My ACL. I tore my ACL and a little bit of the meniscus. I (sat) out for a year. I didn’t play last year. I redshirted that year.”
(What has your recovery been like?) “Since I took my time rehabbing and stuff, it helped me a lot the first couple of months. I was just doing what I was supposed to do and it was getting better and better. I was just wearing a brace and so far I’m pretty happy about where I am right now.”
(You guys are going pretty hard six days a week. Have you ever played this much basketball?) “I played my freshman year at CSI and we were going like six hours a day, but that’s a different level. That was D-I and this is the Pac-10. They’re going to expect more out of you and you have to expect more out of yourself. I think I’m just like setting my mind to coming to the gym every day and getting better and coming back stronger.”
(Everyone says they want to play with a 7-foot center, but not a lot of people know how to play with a 7-footer. Do you know what I’m getting at? Is it awkward sometimes for you when you’re playing with a new team?) “Yeah. That’s a good question. A lot of people don’t realize how to use a big and stuff like that. The guards sometimes they throw you some pass expecting you to catch it, but you have no chance. So that’s something you go through and you practice. We have pretty good guards. They’re smart. They know. And of course coach is showing it on film, saying like how to use bigs and stuff like that. I’m not worried about that. By the end of the year, we’re going to get better as a team. I’m going to get better.”
(As your teammates are getting to know you, are you getting to know what you can and can not do?) “Yeah, yeah. I’m learning more about myself just being on the court and playing against good players. I have to understand everybody’s game. I have to be in the right spot when they catch the ball so I can be able to catch it around the rim and finish. It’s just something we have to build on as a team. And I’ve just had one week or a half of week of practice so we have time to build that. I’m pretty positive we’re going to be better.”
(How would you describe your game?) “I want to play as a team so it doesn’t matter what I do. I just want to do my job and help my team to win. So at the end of the day, what’s the score? It doesn’t matter if I have 20 rebounds. You have to get Ws. I’m just happy to win, get offensive rebounds, playing defense and finishing around the rim. Whenever I crash the rim, I have to finish. That’s my job. Rebounding and blocking shots.”
(Folks here about your defensive skills, but how is your offensive game?) “I like defensive because people usually they see that part. I like to challenge and compete. That’s something I like to do. But on the offensive end, I’m not to bad though. I finish. I got good hands. I’m not just saying that. I can catch the ball and finish around the rim. I’m working. It’s different because when you’re big, it depends on how the coach uses you. So you have to be in the right spot and whenever you catch the ball in the right spot, you have to finish. And I can finish around the rim. My go-to move is one dribble and hook shot.”
(Is playing defense in this system different because it seems as if they ask the bigs to do a lot like switching, playing on the perimeter and defending the basket?) “When you play defense, you’re not just by yourself. And it’s not just one thing. It’s being in the right spot, changing people’s shots and get deflections by using your wingspan. When you play zone and stuff like that, you can use a big inside just for rebounds and stuff like that. I can play several ways on the defensive side. I just have to keep getting better and at the end of the day I need to be where I’m supposed to be.”
(Can you play together with Matthew Bryan-Amaning?) “Of course. He’s a really good player. He’s more like a 4-guy. He can pick and pop and shoot. He can pick and pop and dribble. He can finish around the rim. He’s like 6-9 and we can both play together. That’s the coach’s deal. That’s not my job.”
(How long have you been playing basketball?) “Around 10 years.”
(How old are you?) “Twenty-two.”
(So you started when you were 12. Is it a natural game for you?) “Yeah, yeah. I feel like it is a natural game. When I come from Senegal I played soccer growing up, but I have forgot my soccer skills. I forgot some of my footwork. I’ve always liked basketball. Growing up playing basketball, I’ve been learning a lot.”
(Does having a soccer background help with basketball?) “It helps me a lot. I remember when I first came to the States I was running and stuff and they were like they never seen a big man running like that because I always played soccer when I was little. It kind of helps me with the footwork.”
(When was the last time you went home?) “I went home last May. I went just for a few weeks and came back.”
(Do you miss home?) “Yeah I miss it. I miss home-cooked meals and stuff.”
(What’s a home-cooked meal for you?) “Some fish. Senegal is right on the Atlantic Ocean. So we eat a lot of seafood. We eat a lot of rice and fish. It’s good.”
(How did you get to Washington?) “I went one year of prep school in Chicago when I came to the States when I came from high school in Senegal. I did one year of prep in Chicago. I was taking ESL classes and I didn’t have enough credits to go to D-1. I was good enough to go to D-1, but I had to go to junior college. I went to Southern Idaho because it’s the No.1 juco. I went there for two years. I played my freshman year and in the second year I tore my ACL and I didn’t play. A lot of schools were coming to recruit me and that was like a long process. I just took my time, took my visits and came here for the UCLA game. I liked the environment. I just took my time building a relationship with the coaching staff. I was talking to coach Romar a lot on the phone. It was between Oklahoma and Washington and I picked Washington.”
(You happy with the choice?) “Yeah I’m happy. It’s a great place. People care about me. Everybody is nice. I’m not complaining. So far it’s good. People try to help you on and off the court. I’m happy.”
(Are you looking forward to the season?) “Yeah I’m anxious for it because I think about not just sitting out but I haven’t been able to even dribble a basketball (at times) in the past year. I’ve been just working hard and doing what I’m supposed to be doing. Just take every day, take it as you’re supposed to get better and everything will take care of itself. I’m looking forward to it. It’s going to be a fun year.”
(The other day your coach was trying to shield you from outrageous expectations and cautioned everyone to not expect you be Shaq O’Neal in the first game.) “That’s what the coach said? That’s the thing. It’s not easy just coming back from an injury. It’s a lot of things. It’s getting back your confidence. I know that people can expect a lot, but I know that as a player I’m just trying to be focused and do what I’m supposed to do and everything else will be fine.”
(What do you expect from yourself?) “The things I expect is just what I’ve been doing so far. Working hard in practice. Just trying to get better every day. Use every day to get healthy and get treatment and just get 100 percent healthy. And on the court, just play hard and play to win.”
(Do you pattern your game after anyone?) “I like a lot of players. In the league I watch all the bigs. Every big is different. They have different strengths and weakness. I watch everybody and I try to learn the best I can. My favorite is player is KG (Kevin Garnett).”
(Why?) “I like his game. He’s a hard worker. He likes to win. He gives high effort when he’s on the court.”
(Do you play like him?) “I try to because I know he’s a winner. That’s what I try to be.”
(What do you like to do away from basketball for fun?) “Just like everybody else. Just hang out. Hang out on the computer. Go in skype and talk to my friends sometimes from back home. I play video games and watch TV.”
(What games do you play?) “FIFA Soccer and NBA Live. They’re fun. I used to play some shooting games and stuff like that, but I don’t like it a lot.”
(How is your relationship with the guys off the court?) “Everybody is great. We support each other off the court. Hang out in the locker room. Make jokes and laugh and stuff. That’s what it’s all about. It’s about family because at the end of the day that’s all you have.”
(Are you close to one particular teammate?) “Probably my roommates. I’m roommates with Terrence (Ross) and Scott (Suggs). We share an apartment. We hang out a lot. That’s been really good.”