The Big A


N’Diaye was mildly upset.  Well, no.  He was genuinely pissed.

He walked over to the bench and sat down, glaring at the court.  If those self-centered, myopic, street-ball guards think I’m invisible, thought the 7-footer, there’s no point in my being out there.

Aziz wanted to work on his inside game.  He knew he could be good, darned good, and he needed to work on his inside game.

He was taller than anyone on the team, stronger than anyone on the team, and one of the fastest players on the team.  I’m 7’0” feet tall.  I can run with the guards, he thought; and I’m capable of things they aren’t.  But I need to work on my inside game.

Last year N’Diaye got a pretty good taste of the inside.  It was a learning experience but he did well rebounding, defending and scoring, improving as the season progressed.  At the same time, he knew that with practice he could be so much better.  At the end of the season he dedicated himself to becoming the player he envisioned.

Who did he envision?  Aziz N’Diaye.  Not the newcomer from Senegal by way of junior college but the savvy veteran from Montlake.  Formidable.  Awesome.  Maybe scary.

But his hands needed to work faster, his moves needed to be quicker, more fluid and automatic; his free-throw shooting needed to be much better because he planned to attack the hoop a lot more and pick up fouls in the process.  Every game could see a

double double.  More blocks and more redirection outlet passes.  With his size, strength, wingspan and vertical, N’Diaye knew he had the potential to own the paint.

Fee simple interest.  No trespassing allowed.

He thought of Reeves Nelson.

N’Diaye needed to work on his inside game but the guards weren’t cooperating.

So he sat on the North Seattle Community College bench fuming.  This team could use a coach, he thought.

Husky practices have begun, and N’Diaye has a coach to go with his sense of urgency.

N’Diaye began last season as a diamond-in-the-rough with latent talent; a work-in-progress.  But N’Diaye is a good learner.  What’s between the ears makes all the difference in the world, and that can work for good or for bad.  To paraphrase Henny Youngman, take Aaron Curry.  Please.

As the past season progressed, so did N’Diaye.  Eventually he began to automatically roll on pick-and-rolls, block-out while focused on the ball, and his early-season propensity to foul declined.  He was learning to play D-1 basketball with and against good D-1 players, and in the back of his mind he knew he could be as good as any of them.

Maybe better.

Early last season fans watched N’Diaye as he tried to figure out where he was supposed to be, what he was supposed to do, and on occasion his lack of understanding caused some embarrassment.

That’s behind him.

He’s undergone a year of seasoning and has learned his place and position.  During the off-season he worked at doing everything better, envisioning his game as he wanted to play it.  His game and his confidence have improved significantly.

Husky coaches and players are finding a determined Aziz N’Diaye who is a leader, not a learner.  Ready to go.  The Big “A.”  His strength has increased, his mile declined, and having spent the off-season daily ridding himself of last season’s weaknesses, he is anxious to start playing.  On a team with eight freshmen, no one is more anxious than junior N’Diaye.  Like freshman teammate and passer-extraordinaire Tony Wroten, N’Diaye’s dream is a PAC-12 championship and a very deep run in the NCAA tournament.

Very deep.

And to get there, N’Diaye plans on doing his part and doing it at the level he envisions.

The most significant improvement will be basketball I.Q., obvious from the mistakes he doesn’t make.

Where fans will notice an obvious difference is on offense.  He’ll want the ball.  He’ll know what to do when he gets it.  In close, he won’t put it on the floor.  He knows where the hoop is and if he is double-teamed, as he envisions will happen, he’ll hit whoever is open – and as N’Diaye gets better offensively, there’ll be people open.  N’Diaye could have relatively high assists for a center.

He will be a better rebounder.  He had the size last year but he’s subsequently better learned to position that big body, and he’s stronger.  And, again, more confident.

A cynic may consider the above to be ungrounded superlatives.  Hyperbole.  Wishful thinking.


Simply put, it’s amazing how much better someone can be in any sport or profession when they know what they’re doing, and this should be no different with N’Diaye.

Under the watchful eyes of Lorenzo Romar, Raphael Chillious, Paul Fortier and Jim Shaw, the guards will be feeding N’Diaye the ball and he’ll be working hard on his inside game.  He’ll be practicing what he has envisioned all summer, and if he can reach his vision, it’s not only a new season but a new N’Diaye.