Ndiaye a curious mystery in many ways

February, 2, 2012
2/02/12
3:14
PM PT


HUNTINGTON BEACH -- Heads turn. Jaws drop. Gasps follow. Cameras flash.

The circumstance does not matter. The second Mamadou Ndiaye steps onto the basketball court in uniform or exits the gym in civilian clothes afterward, the junior from Brethren Christian draws plenty of attention. It's something that simply comes along with the territory when you are 7 feet, 5 inches tall.

[+] EnlargeMamadou Ndiaye
Courtesy of Art RamosAt 7-foot-6, Mamadou Ndiaye's decision to sign with UC-Irvine was a big surprise -- literally.
That is not a typo. Ndiaye is 7 feet 5.

An unassuming teenager seemingly in a grown man's body. An overgrown man's body, that is. An 18-year old underclassman from Senegal with a future that appears to be limitless given his improving skill set. The upside Ndiaye possesses is off the charts, in fact. A college scholarship almost certainly waits in the wings. A career in the NBA thereafter remains a distinct possibility.

You can't teach size, after all.

Perhaps most interesting, aside from his potential path in life, is the somewhat mysterious journey Ndiaye has been on so far, as well as the tight-lipped nature of Ndiaye and those closest to him.

“Things have been crazy around our little high school lately,'' Brethren Christian coach Jon Bahnsen said. “We've had camera crews here for Mamadou every day the past month or so. He's been all over the local news and papers, on websites; it's been overwhelming. Everyone wants to know more about Mamadou. I'm consistently getting calls from college coaches and scouts interested in him too. To be honest, he doesn't like the attention.''

Video of Ndiaye's exploits on the hardwood have circulated all over the country -- and world, for that matter -- the past couple of weeks. Not surprisingly, he has become an Internet sensation of sorts. As of Thursday, one of his YouTube clips has more than 660,000 hits. Another is closing in on 525,000.

For those hoping to catch a glimpse of Ndiaye -- he averages 23 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks -- the Warriors (18-5 overall) play at Newport Beach Crean Lutheran on Friday night.

Receiving recognition on a regular basis, however, does not seem to sit particularly well with Ndiaye. His legal guardians refuse to speak with the media and have not allowed him to share his side of the story with reporters since Ndiaye's arrival at Brethren Christian around this time last year.

When approached, Ndiaye is non-confrontational. Often times, he prefers to offer up a big smile and the occasional: “What's up...” Aside from that, he and his camp mostly keep quiet.

“He doesn't really like publicity so we are honoring his desire and not talking much about him,'' Brethren Christian principal Rick Niswonger said. “He is a great kid though. We are fortunate that he moved into our neighborhood. The truly amazing thing is how gentle and kind he is. We love him. He takes his studies seriously. The rest is basketball awesomeness.''

Adding to the intrigue is the fact Ndiaye arrived from Senegal in September 2010. He initially attended Stoneridge Prep, a small private school in Simi Valley that is not a member school in the California Interscholastic Federation, the state's govering body for high school athletics. Under CIF rules, foreign students must sit out one year of competition before becoming eligible to participate in athletics.

For reasons unknown, things did not go according to plan at Stoneridge Prep, a school known in the past as a hotbed for developing players from overseas. A medical procedure to remove a tumor was another setback for Ndiaye, and presumably, paved the way for his eventual transfer.

“I don't know exactly what happened with Mamadou while he was here, but I've heard nothing but good things about him from our principal, Maria Arnold,'' said Les Bean, who recently took over as coach at Stoneridge Prep. “I've seen him play, he is a very talented kid. He is dedicated to the game and I think he'll have ono problems reaching his goals.''

Ndiaye has fit in well with the Warriors thus far, although some observers wonder about the motives behind his move to the private school in Orange County. Brethren Christian, of course, protects the privacy of the married couple who are said to live mere miles away from campus and responsible for Ndiaye's well-being.

Questions remain unanswered, as a result. Perhaps the goal is to allow Ndiaye to lead as normal a life as possible.

Then again, nothing about Ndiaye is normal. Not hi s 89-inch frame. Not his 310-pound body. Not his 19 1/2 shoe size. Keep in mind, we're talking about a junior in high school.

“Everyone is trying to protect Mamadou, that's all,'' Bahnsen said. “What we need to remember is that we're talking about a high school kid who wants to be just that, a high school kid. Sure, he's gifted on the court. But being constantly bombarded is never fun.''

College coaches and scouts alike, are aware of his measurables.

Accordingly, Ndiaye has received plenty of recruiting interest from Division I programs. “It's a circus, Mamadou is a hot topic,” Bahnsen said.

Multiple Pac-12 Conference schools are regularly represented at Warriors' practices, with nearby USC leading the pack. Baylor has expressed varied levels of interest and is one of his many potential suitors.

As word continues to spread, chance are plenty of others will follow suit.

“I've seen Ndiaye play recently and the first thing that grabs your attention is his massive size,'' said Joel Francisco, a national recruiting analyst for ESPN. “Thing is, he's long, can drop step and dunk with no problem. When he puts his hands up on defense, he takes up the entire lane. Not many kids in high school can do those kinds of things.

“He's an intriguing prospect, but still a project, in my book. For example, I remember seeing Yao Ming when he was around the same age. He was 7-5 at the time, same as Ndiaye, but light years ahead. It's going to take some time for Mamadou to adjust and make the transition to playing in this country. I think someone will take a chance on him though. You can't ignore what he can potentially bring to the table at the next level, maybe beyond. You don't see kids like him often.''

More than likely, sometime very soon, Ndiaye will have to become more accustomed to the attention, and at some point address questions about his basketball path.

The buzz surrounding Ndiaye, after all, does not figure to subside any time soon. In this day and age, once the engine in the hype machine starts running, there's no slowing things down.

Mamadou NdiayeCourtesy of Art RamosIt's easy to spot Mamadou Ndiaye when he takes the court for Brethren Christian.
Sean Ceglinsky covers preps for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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