Dieng at UofL’s media day yesterday afternoon
I got a chance to chat a bit with Gorgui Dieng yesterday one-on-one before the rest of the media hoards crowded around him and engulfed a solid 10×10 box around the area he was seated. I don’t have a laundry list of players to compare him with as I’ve generally kept my distance from the players themselves and since I didn’t technically attend UofL as a student (don’t ask), I didn’t know many of them when I was actually in school nearly a decade ago. That said, it’s pretty easy to see how unique and genuine Dieng is. And I have a hard time imaging that there’s been too many better people to come through this program. Basketball appears to be a means to the next chapter in his life, but it’s certainly not his end. He’s got much loftier goals in life and he’s a true humanitarian in the making. His English has once again gotten remarkably better in just the last 4-5 months. He was hard to understand when he first got here, now his English inflections are probably better than mine. And that’s not to mention the fact that English is his 4th language. I’m still stuck on basic Spanish verb conjugation, an ongoing battle since middle school. Not only is he incredibly bright and descriptive when discussing his life and his ambitions both now and down the road, but he speaks with an air of confidence that makes you believe all of those dreams and goals will certainly become a reality one day. But don’t just take it from me. Matt Crossman of the Sporting News met with Dieng recently and conducted an in-depth interview in which the Senegal native talks about visiting sick kids in hospitals, wanting to help poor people in his native land and why he always seems to have a smile on his face. It’s an outstanding piece and it shows just how much perspective this kid has in life, both on and off the court. Here’s a few excerpts and you can read the entire thing here.
As he enters his junior season, the college basketball world is trying to get in there, too, setting plenty of goals for him: Dominate in the paint. Lead Louisville to another Big East championship. Win the NCAA Tournament. Go on to an NBA career. He certainly aspires to all of that. But he says nothing of it on this beautiful hot summer day. Success in basketball is a means to a goal rather than just a goal itself. He wants to take the fruits of basketball success, whether it’s money or an education or both, home to Senegal to help people there. “The ball’s going to stop bouncing,” he says, and he wants to be ready to do good when it does.
His ambitions run far deeper than averaging 20 and 10. Put another way: He wants to average 20 and 10 off the court. “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,” he says.
The sun is at Dieng’s back. A clock tower rings the Westminster Chimes and then gongs 12 times. It’s high noon, and the sky is as clear as the future that awaits him. Here is what he wants out of life, before and after the ball stops bouncing: “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 …” He stops and starts over.
“People forget the basics. Now, it’s all about money. It’s all about what you got,” Dieng says. “They forget happiness. There is nothing better than a smile. Nothing.”
He opens the door for me and we enter the Student Activities Center. Two young women greet him. They chit-chat. I ask him to expand on his fondness for smiling. “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,” he says. “You change their life. And I don’t give them anything. Just go to see them, talk to them and take a picture.”
Wherever he goes, he brings his smile with him and leaves more in his wake. That smile, his friends and loved ones say, represents the joy he has in his heart. But that joy is not alone. It shares space with heartache.
Dieng was in a strange country with strange customs and a strange language. For weeks, he stayed in his room. He called home constantly, until his dad back in Senegal told him to stop.
Basketball provided some solace. A dunk by any other name looks equally sweet. Going to school helped, too. Nobody at Huntington Prep was from Huntington, so at least Dieng was with other teenagers in similar situations.
Even with the language barrier, he left an impression on people. “If he’s eating and he knows somebody doesn’t have enough money to eat, he’ll split his food and share it with that person,” says Tyrel Edwards, Dieng’s teammate at Huntington Prep who plays at Canisius. “He just makes everyone around him more caring.”