Hamady Ndiaye gets warm welcome in return to the Wizards

Hamady Ndiaye returned to the Wizards Friday fresh from a month-long stint in the NBA Development League.
Hamady Ndiaye returned to the Wizards Friday fresh from a month-long stint in the NBA Development League. (Jonathan Newton/the Washington Post)
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 7, 2011; 11:56 PM

He had been gone for nearly a month, but it felt like Hamady Ndiaye had never left when he returned from a tour with the Dakota Wizards in the NBA Development League. After the Washington Wizards lost on Friday to Orlando, Ndiaye was back in the locker room, helping to uplift spirits by providing comic relief and flashing his gap-toothed grin.

Ndiaye joined reporters and placed his iPhone out to record as they gathered around Trevor Booker. He jokingly nodded at Booker's responses. It was a welcome scene for a locker room that has mostly been filled with gloom and despair as the Wizards (13-37) trudge through a season-high eight-game losing streak.

Booker laughed about the incident a few days later, describing Ndiaye as a "clown" and adding, "He's always smiling. He's a positive asset to the team."

Ndiaye's bubbly personality and boundless energy helped him earn a roster spot, but he was unable to earn much more than meaningless minutes in four lopsided games for the Wizards.

Following owner Ted Leonsis's desires to utilize the D-League, the Wizards sent him down on Jan. 6 to their affiliate in Bismarck, N.D., where Ndiaye often struggled to find cellphone reception but received playing time - and lessons on how to stay warm in ridiculously cold weather.

"It's tough. Colder than expected, than the usual," Ndiaye said. "The coldest I seen it was minus-20 or something like that. It was freezing outside. Every day it was snowing. I think I only saw the road twice, that's how bad it was."

Ndiaye said he packed a few coats, bought several pairs of long johns and a jumbo-sized pair of boots, which he called "the biggest boots I have ever seen in my life. I wear size 17, but dude, if you look at them, it looks like they're size 24 probably or something like that. They're huge. They're like a trophy to me. I had the mask on, the glasses to go with it, the skully, everything for the cold. I was prepared."

Ndiaye averaged 4.0 points and 4.2 rebounds in 11 games, including two starts with Dakota. He had mixed emotions about the demotion - pleased to get an opportunity to improve, disappointed that he had to leave teammates such as Booker and Kevin Seraphin to do it - but maintained a positive attitude.

"I made the best out of it. As soon as I got there, it was no point of me being down on myself or whatever," said Ndiaye, a 6-foot-11 center whom the Wizards drafted 56th overall last June. "I gained a lot of things out of that experience, one would be it opened my eyes to a different world. It's a grind out there, that's the perfect word to put it in. Everybody's trying to make it. It shows you two different worlds in one. I was glad to see that there's something else, not just all the glamour and everything. When you go down there, you get focused. I really loved it, in a way, just for the competition."

Ndiaye said that players often came at him with a vengeance since they wanted to be in his spot. "It's just a whole different mind-set where out here, people made it already. People have it already. Out there, they're trying to, so it's hard work every day. You've got to have the right mind-set, that's why it was fun for me, to be honest. I really loved it."

The Wizards sent along trainer Joe Connelly to work with Ndiaye while he was with Dakota. Ndiaye said he took advantage of the personal attention, knocking on Connelly's door most nights to get in extra workouts, focusing mostly on improving his offensive game. "It's an atmosphere where you can be really focused and do what you're there for," Ndiaye said. "I was really happy that I could be focused all day on basketball and whatever I wanted to do and not being bothered and anything like that. It's the great thing about it. Nobody was there to be in my way. I was there for pretty much a mission, and I wanted to do what I was there for, and it was easy. I'm not a grumpy person, as you know."

Ndiaye said he watched Wizards games on his computer whenever he could and stayed in contact with his teammates, despite the difficulty he had making phone calls. "You not getting no 3G out there, no way. You still got a little bit of signal. You got a couple bars. You have to look for it, do the old school hold it up and check for it."

The Wizards called up Ndiaye last Friday, but only after he injured his left knee after getting undercut in a game against Sioux Falls. Coach Flip Saunders said Ndiaye would work with the Wizards' trainers through at least the all-star break and the team would likely send him back to Dakota when he's healthy. Ndiaye said his injury would not require surgery. "It's not too, too bad. Not too serious, too crazy. Just a little rehab and I should be straight," Ndiaye said. "Seeing these guys, practicing with them again, it's a great feeling. I'm happy to be back."

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