On Thursday, January 30th, UC Irvine visited UC Santa Barbara in a matchup for first place in the Big West Conference. Irvine has one of the most unique players to enter college basketball in many years, 7’6″, 290 pound freshman Mamadou Ndiaye, the tallest player in college basketball. Ndiaye has garnered attention after his first 22 games in the NCAA with his imposing presence, averaging 9.6 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 3.4 blocks in only 20 minutes of playing time per game. His most impressive statistic is his 80 percent field-goal percentage. His least impressive statistics are his free-throw percentage (37.5 percent), and the fact that he has only three assists compared to 37 turnovers for the year. Recently, he had a streak of 25 straight field-goal makes, which was broken with a miss on his first shot, a short jumper, in this game.
As a local high-school coach in Santa Barbara, I first saw Ndiaye at the UCSB team camp last summer. I was sitting in the bleachers watching one of the six games that are going on simultaneously. I looked down at the far court on the north side of the gym, and his imposing presence immediately caught my eye. I could not take my eyes off him until his game ended. He towered over all the players on his court, and played in a very casual manner (almost like boredom), showing very little emotion no matter what was happening. Obviously, he was very dominating.
Since he is only a freshman, who averaged 27 points, 14 rebounds, and 4.5 blocks in high school at Brethren Christian HS in Huntington Beach, California, it remains to be seen how Ndiaye will develop as a player.
UCSB had a similar player in 7’3″, 242 pound Greg Somogyi from Hungary, who played from 2009-2013. In one of his first home games as a freshman against Utah State, Somogyi was inserted in a close game, and completely dominated with rebounds, blocks, and dunks, and had everyone raving about his size and potential. Unfortunately, as a collegian, that potential was not realized. Somogyi never even became a starter for UCSB, showing only intermittent flashes of good play, never developing any kind of “back to the basket” offensive game, and never seeming to improve his strength and endurance. After graduation, the Los Angeles Lakers took him to training camp as a project (and still are interested in him as a project) but he was cut fairly early. He signed with CB Coruna of Spain and played there in the 2012-2013 season. Currently he is playing with Alba Feheryar in his home country of Hungary, and seemingly doing well.
It will be interesting to see what the future holds for Mamadou Ndiaye. Will he be a Greg Somoyi with unfulfilled potential, or will he become an NBA force, like another African, Manute Bol? One of my sources in the NBA has told me that, if Ndiaye declared for the draft after this year, an NBA team would take him in the second round and send him to the NBA Developmental League for several years. There is an old axiom is basketball “You can’t teach height”.
This will definitely be an interesting story to follow.
John Slavin is a Correspondent and Scout for NetScouts Basketball. Thanks to freep.com and nesn.com for the photos.