By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 21, 2010; 11:52 PM
Hamady Ndiaye assumed the same position almost every game this preseason, seated on the floor, resting along the advertising boards adjacent to the Washington Wizards' crowded bench, flanked by his partner in pine, Kevin Seraphin.
Ndiaye wanted to play more but understood why he didn't and embraced his limited opportunities on the court like an understudy getting a chance to star on Broadway. And despite his tenuous position as a second-round pick who needs to make the team or find employment elsewhere, Ndiaye is usually sporting a huge, contagious, gap-toothed smile.
Ndiaye has been spreading smiles and laughter throughout the preseason. He starred when rookies had to sing for veterans at a team dinner during training camp, with a performance that had some of his teammates speculating that he had a future in show business. He distracted Andray Blatche in pregame warm-ups in New York by defending him with dance moves. And after a loss to Detroit, he gently ribbed John Wall for inadvertently squirting cologne on his shoes in the locker room by asking, "Really, John, your feet?"
"I like the fact that I can help the other guys be in a better mood. It's kind of like, one of my roles," said Ndiaye, a 7-foot native of Senegal. "When I was growing up, I always had tough times, back at home. And you can't always be mad at anything. You can't always have your wish. I would smile at everything and it would be better. And one smile makes the next guy smile, too."
Ndiaye (pronounced "EN-jai") is affectionately called "H" by Wizards staff and players, and Coach Flip Saunders said he is "very likeable. He's maybe the most personable guy on our roster."
When asked to describe Ndiaye's game this summer, center JaVale McGee said "he reminds me of a young me." The comment was especially amusing because the 23-year-old Ndiaye is actually a year older than McGee. But Ndiaye didn't start playing basketball until he was discovered in his home town of Dakar at 16.
Ndiaye came to the United States shortly thereafter, by himself and speaking little English, with the primary motivator being to earn a college scholarship. He soon fell hard for basketball, trying to make up for lost time by staying in the gym. "People were like, 'You're going to get tired.' I'm not tired yet," said Ndiaye, who graduated from Rutgers with a degree in communications and left as the Big East defensive player of the year. "I don't like taking days off because I don't have time for it."
The Wizards already knew that they would have one project big man this season in Seraphin. So when they got Ndiaye with the 56th overall pick, as almost a throw-in in the trade with Minnesota to get Trevor Booker, the Wizards expected Ndiaye to get a job overseas so they could retain his rights while he gained more experience.
But Ndiaye didn't attract the attention that he had hoped and the Wizards waited until the last minute to issue him a non-guaranteed qualifying tender. Ndiaye said he felt compelled to come after the connection he made with fellow rookies Wall, Seraphin and Booker over the summer. "The guys on the team, and everybody, the way we bond, it's kind of perfect, you want to say. I love it," Ndiaye said. "It is a huge risk, but we've got the man above for that. I'm a go-getter and I'm going to give everything I've got. If it's practice, it's on the bench, wherever it is, so whatever happens, I know I have the right conscience with it."
Ndiaye played a total of 21 minutes in just three preseason games, contributing four rebounds and two blocked shots. The Wizards reduced the roster to 15 players on Thursday by waiving former No. 3 overall pick Adam Morrison and 10-year veteran Sean Marks. Morrison, who won two championships with the Los Angeles Lakers, averaged five points while shooting 43.8 percent (40 percent from beyond the three-point line) with two rebounds and 1.5 assists in 19.3 minutes in four preseason games.
Marks suffered a pulled right hamstring in training camp, aggravated the injury shortly afterward and wasn't able to return to practice until Monday. He didn't play in the preseason finale against Detroit even though he was available.
Ndiaye, Cartier Martin and Lester Hudson are the only Wizards players remaining on make-good contracts. The Wizards will have to make a decision to keep Ndiaye for the rookie minimum of $473,604 or cut him by Monday.
The league established new rules this season that allow teams to send players they cut during training camp to their NBA Developmental League affiliates.
President Ernie Grunfeld said the team would consider sending every player they cut to the Dakota Wizards, but they still lose their rights the moment they are released. Saunders said he would prefer to keep Ndiaye around because of his "huge upside" and the boundless energy he displays in practice and games.
"I'm hoping there's a way," Saunders said. "We really like him. He's a guy that can be in this league for a long time, because he's got unbelievable energy, can block shots. He's fearless with how he plays. He's not afraid of any type of challenge. He's got extremely high intelligence. When you have a guy like that, who is a willing learner and a willing worker, those guys find a way to stay in the league, especially when you're 7-foot and can run and jump. That's why we took him."
And, for someone who was so excited to make his preseason debut that he lost his headband while blocking a shot, Ndiaye is willing to be patient for his opportunity. "It doesn't really bother me that I didn't play a couple of games, even though it's preseason," Ndiaye said. "As coach said, we've got a lot of big guys on the team. I'm learning, from the bench. I'm paying attention to every single detail. So, it's okay with me. No matter what it takes, I'm always going to keep a smile on my face."