Louisville sophomore Gorgui Dieng is a lot more than he appears on the surface. Yes, he's 6-11 with a 7-6 wingspan and the mobility and timing to block shots and grab rebounds. He's also a living example of the globalization of the game and how talent and character from any corner of the Earth has the opportunity to rise up and achieve greatness.
Dieng, 22, arrived in the United States in late 2009 to play one year of high school ball at Huntington Prep Academy in West Virginia. His English, non-existent when he arrived, is now fully fluent which helps us get a glimpse into the charm, intelligence and passion of this amazing young man.
The son of a former school principal (now a legislator) from a small town two hours outside the capital of Senegal, Dieng grew up a soccer player until he was too tall for that game. But basketball was present in his life from age five and while still improving, he's far more advanced in his skills than other young players from Africa.
That was evident Thursday night when Dieng was the best player on the floor in Louisville's Sweet 16 win over Draymond Green and the Michigan State Spartans. Dieng had seven blocks, nine rebounds and three steals in that game.
The "book" on Dieng is that he's a good NBA prospect because of his defense but is still underdeveloped offensively.
He's currently slotted to go in the second round of the 2013 draft although he insists he will graduate from Louisville to honor the wishes of his father who puts education well ahead of athletics.
Dieng isn't worried right now about his offense.
"When I was in high school, I never played defense in my life," Dieng said. "All I was caring was how I was going to score. I could do everything to score. But when I get to college, coach (Rick Pitino) told me, 'Listen, you want to make it to the NBA?' I say, yes. He say, 'I'm going to teach you how to make it to the NBA.' He change my whole mentality to play defense. He say, 'I want you to focus on defense so much and not worry about offense.'"
Coach told me, 'You're going to learn how to play good solid defense first. And after you learn that, I'm going to take you to the offense and stuff. That's easy.' ...If he wanted me to have 40 points tomorrow, he going to run a lot of plays to me and I'm going to score a lot but we're going to get beat. I want to be patient, listen to him, because I know he's not going to put me in a situation that I'm going to fail. Anybody can score."
The numbers back up his confidence.
According to Synergy Sports Tech, Dieng is rated "Very Good" on the offensive end, converting about 51 percent of his post chances and 71 percent in transition. His numbers are better than Florida's Patric Young, who's ranked as the 10th overall pick in a 2013 mock draft.
"I think he's pretty strong," Dieng said about playing against Young in Saturday's Elite Eight contest. "But basketball, you need to be skilled first. He might be stronger than me, you never know, but you need to be skilled first to play basketball...I think I have to use my mind."
If Dieng continues to add muscle and is given more offensive opportunities over the rest of his college career, I would expect his draft stock to soar. Once teams get a chance to talk to him and recognize how deep the waters run with this kid, NBA front offices will love him.
Dieng and the Louisville Cardinals face the Florida Gators in the Elite Eight on Saturday at 1:30 p.m..
- Dieng was caught on camera recently laughing after being chewed out by his coach. This is nothing unusual according to the light-hearted center, "To be honest with you, any time I see coach get mad, that tickles me."
- Gorgui said reaching the NBA would accomplish 70 percent of his goals in life. Asked about the other 30 percent, he displayed an understanding of his responsibilities learned from his father.
"The other 30 percent is like to be a role model and I want to go back home kind of giving back for people that help me to get here, going to school, playing basketball. I want to go back home one day and do the same thing for the kids. I don't want to be selfish. People help me to get where I am. I want to go back and do the same thing for them."
- His team-first mentality seems to mirror his small town upbringing where helping others and working as part of the community are highly valued.
- Dieng's favorite soccer player is Lionel Messi. He says playing soccer helps with his balance and when he wants to demonstrate how coordinated he is, the big man will show off by juggling a soccer ball.
- Dieng is studying Sports Management at Louisville. He wants to be a coach some day.
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