Gorgui Dieng spoke four languages when he arrived in America four years ago. Unfortunately for him, English wasn't one of them.
Born in Senegal, Dieng was a 6-foot-11, 180-pound, multilingual math wiz who spoke Spanish, French, Italian and his native Wolof.
“It was very hard for me,” Dieng said. “The first week I would just stay in my room. I couldn't speak to anybody. I couldn't do anything 'cause I couldn't speak one word of English. If you said ‘Hi' to me, I would just look at you. I didn't know what to say.”
Since then, Gorgui Dieng (pronounced GOR-gee Jeng) has become a grand communicator, a veritable quote machine:
* “I'm not scared to set a high goal. If I fail, at least I set a very high goal. Not setting a goal and fail? That's the worst.”
* “Be happy and healthy and respectful to people. Respect everybody, whether I'm older than them or they're older than me. Have a very disciplined life. If you just go back to the basics … ”
* “People forget the basics. Now, it's all about money. It's all about what you got. They forget happiness. There is nothing better than a smile. Nothing.”
* “I go to the hospital, and I see kids. Even when they're sick, they're lying down on the bed, they don't stop smiling. You change their life. And I don't give them anything. Just go to see them, talk to them and take a picture.”
Louisville coach Rick Pitino eventually compared the allure of Dieng to that of Louisville native, Muhammad Ali.
“He draws crowds that are Ali-like,” Pitino said. “It's incredible the magnetism and the charisma and the love the city has for this guy. Wherever he goes, it's, ‘Gorgui, Gorgui, Gorgui, Gorgui.'”