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.'”
Dieng showed tremendous growth in the three seasons he played for the Cardinals, adding 50 pounds to his once-frail frame and emerging as one of the premier shot blockers in school history.
Dieng's collegiate career culminated with winning this year's NCAA championship as a junior. The better he was able to communicate, the better understanding Dieng had for the game.
He now knows the difference between goaltending and a legally blocked shot. He realizes offensive fouls actually count toward your personal foul total. And after the Cardinals lost to Morehead State in the opening round of the 2011 NCAA Tournament, he learned the season suddenly was over – the harsh consequences of losing in a single-elimination tournament.
Previously considered a borderline first-round prospect, Dieng is now slated by some as a potential lottery pick (top 14) in the NBA Draft on June 27. At age 23, he is the second-oldest player expected to be drafted.
Dieng didn't start playing basketball until he was 17. Less than two years later, he was named MVP of the 2009 Basketball Without Borders Event in South Africa.
“I'm really proud of myself,” Dieng said at last month's draft combine. “I put a lot of work into it to become the player I am today. I know I have a long way to go, but there's always room for improvement. I've been working on everything to make me a better player. I'm willing to work and I will do whatever it takes.”
Birthdate: Jan. 18, 1990
Hometown: Kebemer, Senegal
2012-13 stats: 31.1 mpg; 9.8 ppg; 9.4 rpg; 2.5 bpg; .534 FG; .652 FT
Strengths: Outstanding defensively. Intense battler in the paint. Continues to grow into a prototypical center, adding 50 pounds in the last four years. At the draft combine, he was measured with the second-longest standing reach at 9-foot-3½ inches.
Weaknesses: Still goes for head fakes and is victimized by players with solid post moves. Poor offensively with back to the basket, shooting just 28 percent from the post. Weak opposite (left) hand, particularly after breaking left wrist early last season.
How he could help the Thunder: Plays with an attitude on defense and has tremendous work ethic. Unselfish offensively and a terrific passer. Mature, extremely cultured and speaks five languages. Would blend in well with Serge Ibaka and Hasheem Thabeet.
Projections: No. 11 (cbssports.com); No. 12 (si.com); No. 20 (draftexpress.com); No. 22 (espn.com); No. 24 (hoopshype.com; nbadraft.net)
Quotable: “I want to go back home and give back. People helped me to get here to go to school and play basketball, I want to go back home and do the same thing for the kids. I think they really want it. I don't want to be selfish. People who helped me do what I'm doing right now, I want to go back and do the same thing for them.” – Dieng on making off-season trips to Senegal.