Saturday, June 16, 2018
Sports

Louisville Cardinals' Gorgui Dieng savors trip from Senegal to Final Four

The road to the Final Four is never easy, but Louisville sophomore center Gorgui Dieng can legitimately say he has come a long way to get this far.

A native of Kebemer, Senegal, Dieng's basketball career took off several years ago when he attended a Basketball Without Borders camp in South Africa where he was discovered. Dieng (pronounced Gor-gee jeng) eventually landed at Huntington (W. Va.) Prep in 2009. But to say that his early days living in the United States were difficult would be an understatement.

Though he speaks five languages, he was thousands of miles away from his homeland, unable to speak English, and struggling to adjust.

"It was awful," Dieng, now 22, said last weekend. "The first week I stayed in my room. I couldn't speak to anybody because I couldn't say anything. I couldn't speak the language."

Louisville coach Rick Pitino and assistant Walter McCarty were visiting Huntington Prep to check out someone else when they discovered Dieng.

Pitino immediately saw potential in the 6-foot-11 player, who averaged 15.4 points, 12.6 rebounds and 7.2 blocks in his senior season. Though Dieng had an extremely thin frame, carrying all of 187 pounds, Pitino knew he had a diamond in the rough.

"I saw Kim Bohuny from the NBA office. I knew her from my NBA days. She goes over there a lot," Pitino said. "I said 'Kim, can you get me any more Africans? Tell me where they are. I'll go over there. I don't care. Congo, Senegal, wherever it is, I'll go.' I love Gorgui so much. Because we're not a humble society, athletes today. The Africans are so humble and so hungry. It's just so much fun coaching him because it's a throwback."

The throwback kid who has "bulked up" to 235 has stepped up big on the national stage during the Big East and NCAA tournaments.

He was named to the all-tournament teams in the Big East and NCAA West Region. He was outstanding in the Cardinals' win over No. 1 seed Michigan State in last week's region semifinal — tying a school and career record with seven blocked shots in a 57-44 win. His 124 blocks this season broke former Louisville star Pervis Ellison's record of 102 for a season. Dieng is averaging 9.2 points and 9.0 rebounds in 39 starts — with 11 double doubles.

But Dieng might be facing his toughest challenge yet — going head-to-head with Kentucky star and potential No. 1 NBA draft pick Anthony Davis — when the Cardinals and Wildcats meet today in a national semifinal. In a December loss at Kentucky, Dieng had just five points and five rebounds, while Davis had 18 points and 10 rebounds.

Florida has faced both Dieng and Davis and they are comparable in some ways, the Gators said.

"I think obviously Dieng in the back is tremendous," Gators coach Billy Donovan said. "Probably the only guy that we've played against that's been like that has been Anthony Davis, who is an incredible shot blocker. You have a great anchor in the back of (Louisville's) defense, which is great."

Dieng realizes he still has a long way to go, and today's battle with Davis is a key part of that growth. But he also recognizes how far he has come. No matter what happens today, he is relishing this opportunity to live "a dream come true" — with Pitino leading the way.

"A lot of kids back home want to have that chance I have today," Dieng said. "I came to this country into good hands. And this guy (Pitino), he always thinks like, 'How I can get this kid better?' And he worked me so hard. My freshman year I was complaining a lot. I said he worked me so hard, I'm tired, my legs hurt. I thank him for that. He changed my whole mentality."

Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]abay.com.

Comments
Ex-Buc Kellen Winslow pleads not guilty to kidnapping, rape charges

Ex-Buc Kellen Winslow pleads not guilty to kidnapping, rape charges

Times wiresVISTA, Calif. – Former Bucs and Hurricanes tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. was jailed without bail Friday after pleading not guilty to nine counts of kidnapping, rape and other charges.If convicted on all counts, Winslow, 34, could face...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Rays owner Stuart Sternberg frustrated, but optimistic

Rays owner Stuart Sternberg frustrated, but optimistic

NEW YORK — So what does the boss — lowercase, of course, around here — think of this up-and-down, hot-and-cold Rays season so far? Appropriately, a variety of things.In a 30-minute chat with the Tampa Bay Times before Friday's 5-0 l...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Rays journal: Nathan Eovaldi pitches well against his ex-team but gets no help

Rays journal: Nathan Eovaldi pitches well against his ex-team but gets no help

NEW YORK — RHP Nathan Eovaldi made an impressive return to Yankee Stadium on Friday to face his high-powered former teammates.It's too bad he didn't get any help from his current mates, in what ended up a 5-0 Rays loss.Eovaldi was in command an...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Marc Topkin’s takeaways from Rays-Yankees

Marc Topkin’s takeaways from Rays-Yankees

Give RHP Nathan Eovaldi credit for not letting emotions get in the way in his return to Yankee Stadium. He said he planned to treat it as all business, despite memories and friendships and he did just that, working impressively into the eighth.The Ra...
Updated: 4 hours ago

Sports on TV/radio for Saturday, June 16

TODAYArena FootballPhiladelphia at Albany6 p.m.CBSSNAutosTrucks: Iowa 250 qualifying4:30 p.m.FS2Trucks: Iowa 2507 p.m.FS1BaseballRays at Yankees1 p.m.Fox Sun; 620-AMMarlins at Orioles4 p.m.FSFTwins at Indians4 p.m.MLBRed Sox at Mariners8 p.m.FoxCFLHa...
Updated: 4 hours ago

Captain’s Corner: Fishing this month is all about diversity

This is the month of diverse opportunity. The choice of species is unlimited, as long as you have the bait. You can target snook and tarpon in the morning, then fish for Spanish mackerel, bluefish, snapper, sharks and cobia in the afternoon. The tarp...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Irish boxer brings his dream to St. Petersburg

Irish boxer brings his dream to St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG — In his vision for this weekend, Connor Coyle is standing in the ring at the Coliseum, and the referee is raising his gloved fist.He’s got a National Boxing Association middleweight championship belt around his waist, the first of sev...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Services set for former USF, Storm lineman Kenyatta Jones

Services set for former USF, Storm lineman Kenyatta Jones

A pair of visitations and a celebration-of-life service for former Bulls OL Kenyatta "Bear" Jones have been scheduled for next week.Jones, the first USF player ever taken in the NFL draft, passed away June 9 in Colorado of cardiac arrest, according t...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Florida’s Brady Singer voted top college baseball player of year

Florida’s Brady Singer voted top college baseball player of year

OMAHA, Neb. — Florida pitcher Brady Singer has won the Dick Howser Trophy as college baseball's player of the year.Singer, who received the award Friday, carries a 12-1 record and 2.30 ERA into the College World Series, which begins Saturday. T...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Fort Myers’ Travis Blankenhorn wins first FSL home run derby

Fort Myers’ Travis Blankenhorn wins first FSL home run derby

TAMPA — First time is the charm for Travis Blankenhorn of the Fort Myers Miracle. Competing in his first Florida State League All-Star Game home run derby, he took the trophy Friday at Steinbrenner Field with 31 home runs."Feels pretty good esp...
Updated: 6 hours ago