Based on his play during this season, there is only one thing the Washington’s 7-foot center Aziz N’Diaye doesn’t need to improve on this summer: Height.
Everything else needs work.
That 7-foot, 260-pound frame is the reason the junior-to-be has a scholarship. If he were six inches shorter, he might still be back in Senegal. He doesn’t have an offensive game and hasn’t developed ball-handling skills. He’s still working domesticating a foreign game.
But that frame also is what the Huskies desperately need to fill the lane next season. They really have no one else who has the potential to impose, deter and intimidate an opposing player underneath. Matthew Bryan-Amaning, 6-9, 240-pound and a different kind of player, is moving on.
Fifth-year senior Darnell Gant is 6-8, 225 pounds can mix it up inside but can’t pull the weight N’Diaye can. UW Coach Lorenzo Romar said 6-6, 190-pound freshman Terrence Ross is his best post-up player among his wings, but that’s a different discussion.
The Huskies likely will have three new inside players next season, 6-7, 215-pound redshirt freshman Desmond Simmons, who Romar calls ”our most aggressive rebounder.” He said that incoming freshman Jernard Jarreau, at 6-10, 200 pounds, is a night and day” comparison to N’Diaye. And Kevin Davis, a 6-9, 220-pound transfer from Tacoma Community College, is not a sure thing yet because of academic concerns.
Romar also has one scholarship to give and he intends to use that on an inside player. But at this stage of the recruiting calendar, JCs are running low on Kareems, Hakeems and Shaquilles.
When fans consider the prospects of the Huskies next season, they can exult over the perimeter potential, especially if guard Isaiah Thomas returns for his senior season. They also might cringe over the possible weakness in inside game.
We do not take a back seat to anyone,” said Romar, trying to ease concerns. If anything, we are bigger out on the perimeter.”
But it’s not just size that matters. In N’Diaye’s case, he needs more dimensions than inches from the floor. He needs more game. He could use a shot anywhere outside of dunk. He needs to be stronger with the ball, as little guards at times snatched it out of his grasp. He needs to avoid the dumb fouls. He needs better instincts, floor presence and, most of all, belief that he can be a productive, effective Pac-12 center.
I really anticipate Aziz being better on the block next year. I really anticipate that,” Romar said.
The Washington coaching staff will talk to all the players individually next week and each will be given a detailed summer plan to improve. N’Diaye’s game plan might be a little thicker than the others because he’s behind his teammates in development.
N’Diaye took up the sport in his early teens back in Senegal, part of the country’s SEEDS program that provides an avenue to an education through basketball scholarships. He didn’t play at all a year ago because of a knee injury so his pace has been slowed.
At this point, N’Diaye would greatly benefit from intensive, hands-on instruction but he’s virtually on his own. The NCAA forbids coaches from working with their players during the summer, no doubt to protect the players from over-indulgent coaches.
We can’t do anything with him but we’ll try to get him involved in anything imaginable for him to develop,” Romar said. I talked to (former Husky center) Spencer Hawes just today. He’s going to be here this summer. Him, Jon Brockman, Detlef Schrempf, those guys are around and Aziz is like a sponge. Between that and maybe a big man’s camp, not to mention being in weight room to improve his strength, conditioning and balance.
He’ll have some drills to work on in the summer. We’ll plan with him so he can have a huge summer. He and Darnell Gant need to treat this summer like it’s the season.”
N’Diaye started 25 of the team’s 35 games, but finished tied for eighth on the team in average minutes played, only beating out walkons Antoine Hosley and Brendan Sherrer. Part of that is because of foul trouble as he led the team with 103 personals and four disqualifications. And part is because of his offensive liabilities, averaging 4.6 points per game and shooting just 41.7 percent from the line.
But he was second in rebounds, 5.7 per game, and second in blocks with 39, with a countless number of shots changed, altered or denied. That’s what he does best. That’s what Romar and his staff want out of him. There will be enough scoring sources on the team next season that he won’t need anything close to MBA numbers. However, if he can show he can be an offensive threat, that immeasurably helps his other four teammates on the floor.
Junior-college players take at least a half season to find a rhythm and Romar said he saw N’Diaye coming on during conference play. By the NCAA Tournament, he said, something clicked for Aziz. In that NCAA Tournament, he played two really good games. We’re optimistic that’s he’s going to build on that.”
When N’Diaye returns this fall, his knee will have another year to heal. He’ll be coming off a summer of working with NBA players. He’ll know the Husky system. Things won’t be strange or new to him. He’ll know how to pace himself in a game as well as in a season.
With an eye on next season, so it begins the summer of Aziz.