Feb. 23, 2000
By Mark Patton
Santa Barbara News-Press
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Adama Ndiaye had to consider meeting up with lions and panthers, or swimming with crocodiles, whenever he ventured outside his old neighborhood.
"When you go out camping in the wild, you better know where you're at," said Ndiaye, a foreign student from the West African republic of Senegal.
He's camping out on a new block now, but there are other kinds of animals to worry about: Ones with dangerous elbows.
Ndiaye, UCSB's 6-foot-9 junior center, is adapting to the rough life among the beasts of NCAA Division 1 basketball. He's asserted himself enough to become the Big West Conference's No. 2 shot blocker (1.57 per game) and No. 4 rebounder (7.5), helping the 11-12 Gauchos surge to second place in the league's Western Division with a 7-5 record.
"So far, it's been good this year," said Ndiaye, who will lead UCSB into battle tonight when Cal Poly visits the Thunderdome for a 7 o'clock game. "I've been banged up a few times, but nothing really serious. Nothing that would keep me from playing, anyway."
That wasn't the case last year when he hit the floorboards more often than the backboards. He missed a month of the season -- a span covering five games -- after suffering a lower-abdominal injury in the Santa Clara game on Dec. 17.
"I came in for a rebound and came down hard, right on somebody's hip bone," recalled Ndiaye (pronounced Nee-eye). "It felt very painful."
He needed surgery and wound up dropping 10 pounds. He weighed just 205 when he finally returned.
"He wasn't as comfortable to go out and compete when he came back because of the kind of injury he had sustained," said UCSB coach Bob Williams. "He became a little protective of himself."
The pounding that Ndiaye took last year -- his first in Division 1 basketball after having transferred from Oklahoma's Bacone JC -- convinced him to bulk up during the offseason.
"It's a war out there," he said. "Once you have one or two good games with the offensive rebounds, they start spotting you. And then it's totally over for you."
Ndiaye also had to learn some of the tricks of the trade.
"I remember last year," said Williams, "when (Long Beach State's Mate) Milisa, a very sophisticated foreign player, purposely stood on Adama's foot during an out-of-bounds play. Adama pushes him off, just reacts, and gets the foul.
"He's learned the subtleties of it the hard way."
Weight training got Ndiaye up to 228 pounds by the time he returned to school last fall. His weight now fluctuates between 220 and 225.
"I'm not going to let people push me around anymore, I don't care how skinny I am compared to them," he said. "I try to hold my ground."
Ndiaye, who didn't start playing organized basketball until he was 15, did come into the game with some physical tools, including great quickness and leaping ability.
"He grew up playing soccer, which is why he has such good agility and moves his feet so well," Williams pointed out. "He's also got such long arms. We measured them fingertip to fingertip, and his armspan is 7-foot-5! We just laughed, and so did he.
"He affects a game like a 7-footer does. He's become a dominant defensive presence."
Ndiaye's offense has been coming around, too. He scored a career-high 19 points last Thursday at Cal State Fullerton to boost his scoring average to 8.5 per game. He's shooting 48.6 percent from the floor and has made 19 of his last 22 free throws.
"He's a legitimate threat," said Williams. "You have to worry about him on the low post. He's still better facing up, but he's doing nothing but getting better every week.
"He's a coaches dream. He's extremely bright, and he wants to become a better player. He does all the little things to make himself better. By next year, I think he'll be as good a big guy as there is in the Big West."
Ndiaye, who honed his game at summer camps in Hawaii and Las Vegas last year, hopes to return there this year. But he also plans to visit his home in Dakar -- a city of 800,000 on the West African coast -- which he hasn't seen since leaving for a Texas prep school in September of 1996.
"My family is going crazy, they miss me so much," he said. "It's hard for me, too. I have a big family of uncles and aunts and cousins, and it's hard for me to stay in contact with all of them.
"The two people who are closest to me are my sister and grandma. My grandma is getting old now, and I really want to see her. She still always worries about me."
Ndiaye was raised by an uncle after his mother died when he was 7.
"He was like my father and taught me how to be a man and everything," he explained in an interview after first arriving at UCSB. "He died in a traffic accident when I was 16. That's what really hurt me. It broke me down and made me sick a lot.
"My uncle died and I had all kinds of family problems. I just couldn't wait to go to school and come here."
He took a few detours before arriving at UCSB, prepping at Marine Military Academy in Harlingen, Texas, and playing for Bacone JC in Oklahoma. But he's found his true second home at UCSB, where he's majoring in bio-psychology.
"It cannot get better than this," Ndiaye said. "I enjoy everything about it. The place is beautiful, and the people have been so nice and friendly. I love my teammates."
And he's become a truly popular figure around campus.
"He's a sincerely nice guy, with a great smile, and he laughs very easily," said Williams. "He's a fun guy to be around. People just gravitate to him. I don't know of anybody who doesn't like being around him."
Except those who are trying to score against him.