He was 16 years old, traveling alone, with no friends or family waiting for him in a country where he didn’t speak the language. He arrived at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York on Nov. 4, 2004, at 7 a.m., reciting the date and time as though it were yesterday.
“I wanted to go to college and graduate and do something with my life,” said Washington Wizards center Hamady Ndiaye. “That was my first goal.”
Ndiaye didn’t start playing basketball until high school, then attended Rutgers University, and was drafted in 2010 by the Minnesota Timberwolves, who traded his rights to the Wizards. Still new to the game, Ndiaye, listed at 7-feet, only averaged five minutes per game last season. That could change this year.
Ndiaye has undergone a complete transformation this summer, and the Wizards will be getting a different player.
“Personally, I think my overall game is completely different,” Ndiaye said. “My vision on the court is better. I don’t have to think about the game anymore. Since I was new [to the game], I was still thinking about what I was doing. Now, my game is more fluid.”
“I’ve gotten the same feedback from everybody I’ve worked with,” Ndiaye said. “They tell me I’ve improved my game a lot. Last year, I didn’t really get a shot, but I probably wasn’t ready. But this year, I am. I’m hoping for a lot more playing time this season. I’m just looking for a chance to show what I can do. I’m focused, and I’m looking forward to the season.”
Connelly says Ndiaye’s workouts have improved his shooting and ability to establish a post presence.
“The thing about [Ndiaye] is that since he hasn’t been playing very long, he doesn’t have any bad habits,” Connelly said.
“He’s almost like a blank canvas. I’ve been coaching for 20 years, and he’s improved more in 11 months than any player I’ve ever worked with over the same stretch of time. I’m really excited for him and his chances to crack the Wizards‘ rotation this year.”
With a condensed 66-game schedule, and more back-to-back games (and one back-to-back-to-back for every team), it could be a perfect time for coach Flip Saunders to expand his rotation. Blatche believes that will help Ndiaye.
“I tip my hat to [Ndiaye]” Blatche said. “He’s worked as hard as anybody all summer. He’s been in the gym boxing, he’s been on the bike. He’s been very focused and determined. His main focus right now is to get some playing time. The way he’s been going I think that Flip [Saunders] will give him a chance.”
In addition to working on his game, Ndiaye also went home to Senegal for the first time in four years, spent time with his family and started his foundation, whose mission is giving opportunities to children in poor countries.
“When I was young, somebody told me that one day, I’d get a scholarship and go to America,” Ndiaye said. “I want to give other kids the same chance I had.”
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