The Washington countdown continues with a player who is the only veteran low-post threat on the roster – Aziz N’Diaye.
So much is riding on the broad, chiseled shoulders of the 7-foot, 260-pound center. He’s expected to anchor a front line that’s thin on experience and big bodies. It’s a tall order considering the Pac-12 conference has a couple of teams with big front courts.
Coach Lorenzo Romar hasn’t designated starters, but N’Diaye will likely start because he does things that no one else on the team can do. He’s Washington’s best rebounder, most intimidating low-post defender and he ranked sixth in the conference last season averaging 1.1 blocks per game.
“There’s certain players that you can take away from our team that doesn’t make us as good,” Romar said. “But you take Aziz out of there, that hole seems to be so much bigger with what he does and what he brings to the table.
“There’s no one else on roster that can do the things that Aziz does in terms of patrolling that paint and rebounding. Just that presence – that enforcer presence that he has.”
Romar has never had a player like N’Diaye, a traditional back-to-the basket 7-footer, at Washington. He started slowly last season and came off the bench in the first five games before starting the next 20. N’Diaye started 25 games and is one of two returners who appeared in all 35 games.
He averaged 4.6 points and 5.7 rebounds despite returning from a year layoff due to a knee injury. He also injured his toe near the end of the season and had offseason surgery.
N’Diaye led UW with a 57.9 field goal percentage, but he shot 41.7 percent on free throws, including a dismal 3-for-15 performance at the charity stripe in the opener against McNeese State.
Statistically, he played his best game against Seattle University when he tallied a career-high 15 points and 10 rebounds. However, N’Diaye earned a spot in the starting lineup after a standout performance against Kentucky when he tallied 10 rebounds, five blocks and five points in 24 minutes.
Against North Carolina’s big front court, he had 11 rebounds and four points in the third round of the NCAA tournament.
Admittedly, N’Diaye is a defensive-minded player, but in the offseason he used a football to help improve his hands and worked on various low-post moves, including a hook shot.
Romar believes N’Diaye can average a 10 points and 10 rebounds, which would be a significant accomplishment. In the past 40 years, only Jon Brockman (2008-09), Todd MacCulloch (1999), James Edwards (1977) and Steve Hawes (1970-72) averaged a double double at Washington.
Here’s a transcript of a recent interview with N’Diaye.
(How is your health?) “I’m good. I’m feeling good. Just a lot of working hard and trying to get better.”
(Where you unable to do things last season because of your health?) “I don’t know. At the end of the day you have to play a game. If the game is on the line or the season starts, you have to go out there and not think about anything else. But right now, we’re just practicing and I’m feeling good.”
(Romar said last year you could move well in a straight line, but not so good laterally. Are you able to do more laterally?) “Yeah last year I was playing with my knee injury and wearing a knee brace and stuff. This year I’m not wearing the knee brace so that’s probably the reason why I’m moving quicker.”
(Are you able to be a better basketball player if you’re not worried about your health?) “Yeah I think every basketball player knows that there’s a lot of things that can go wrong. Sometimes your body gets hurt. And you’re better when your body is good. So I’m just looking forward to running hard in practice and trying to get better.”
(How did Matthew Bryan-Amaning help you last season?) “I think it helped because he knew the system so well. Last year was my first year. Going to ask him, he knew the offensive plays and stuff like that. And he’s like 6-9 or 6-10 so playing against him every day in practice, I always liked that. With him leaving I kind of miss him, but at the end of the day you got to step up.”
(With Bryan-Amaning gone, it looks like you’re going to be the primary low-post guy. Does that change your approach?) “Just a little because I know expectations are higher because it’s going to be pretty much me and Shawn Kemp down there. We’re like the two centers and I just got to do my thing and whatever I can do around the rim to help this team win. So really my approach doesn’t change.”
(Whenever I watch you play, your intensity really stands out.) “Whenever I step on the court it’s about getting better and it’s a waste of time being on the court if you don’t think that way. Otherwise I’d rather sit out. Your mind has to be in the game and I just kind of carry that mindset with me on the court.”
(Who’s more competitive, you or Desmond Simmons?) “[Laughs] I don’t know. We’re both competitive. I like his game because he fights and everything is tough. But we need those guys on the team. It can’t just be me and Dez. There’s other guys that are competitive too and I think that will help us.”
(Do you like it when folks say you’re the enforcer on the team this season?) “I don’t know. I don’t think of myself like that. People may say that, but that’s something that’s a part of my game and I just got to bring it to help my teammates. That’s just the way I am, the way I’m built.”
(What did you work on this summer?) “I worked on my offensive game, free throws and finishing around the rim.”
(What are you thinking about at the free throw line?) “It’s kind of like I’ve had the coaches help me out in the spring and they tell me to shoot the ball the same way every time. So I’m just thinking about what the coaches said and be focused when I’m on the line and take my time. I’m going to keep working on it and keep practicing.”
(Who has helped you the most with the free throws?) “Basically everybody knows what you’re good at and what your weaknesses are. The coaches do a pretty good job of telling you what to do, but at the end of the day you got to use the managers to help you rebound and just work on it.”
(You had problems catching the ball in the post. Did you work on that?) “I worked on it over the spring. The coach and me we’d do some drills. We’d throw the football and just do a lot of catches and working with your hands. That’s what I’ve been working on and trying to get stronger and getting my hands better.”
(Is there a low-post move that you’re comfortable with?) “I’ve been trying to get more consistent on my hook shots. I’ve been working on that. Of course you always have to work on something else because once get something going the defense will target that. So I’m just trying to work on my hook shots and being better around the rim.”
(Who has surprised you the most?) “I think Tony (Wroten Jr.) is a pretty good guard. I watched him last year in high school and you can see that he’s understood what we do early on. He’s always in the gym. He’s hungry. He wants to get better.”
(Romar said you can average a double double, which would be the first since Jon Brockman. What do you think about that?) “I think that the coach trusts us. He trusts his players. He knows everybody has a dream. I’m just going to keep my head up and be focused on whatever I can do.”
(Do you think you can average 10 points and 10 rebounds?) “Yeah I think I can. But at the end of the day when the game is on the line you can’t focus on that. You’re thinking about the game and what you can do to help your teammates and get a win.”