Tennessee's Pops Ndiaye on coming to UT
He has called New York, Paris, Raleigh and the Senegalese capital of Dakar home. And don’t forget Ottumwa, Iowa.
He speaks English, French, the West African dialect Wolof and even a little Arabic.
Now Rawane “Pops” Ndiaye has arrived in Knoxville at age 22 to see what he can make of this late love affair with the game of basketball for the next two seasons as a Tennessee Vol.
“I started playing basketball when I came back to North Carolina from Senegal,’’ Ndiaye said Wednesday night at the Rocky Top League. “I was 17. I had never played before.’’
Somebody in North Carolina thought it might be a good idea to fit Ndiaye with a pair of sneakers and see what he could do. And why not — he had sprouted up since the last time any family in the States had seen him.
He arrives at UT at 6-foot-10 and somewhere between 250 and 270 pounds, depending on which literature you read.
The erstwhile soccer defenseman actually came to the U.S. just to get an education. If that education included learning a new sport, he was game.
“I took a chance and played,’’ he said. “I thought, ‘I’ll give it a try’ and ended up loving the game.’’
His most recent stop was Indiana Hills Community College in Iowa, where foot injuries in each of his seasons there restricted both his development and his stats.
The Vols are betting on the fact that “Pops” has a big upside. If nothing else, his big backside will be imposing defensively in the paint.
There is a family history with the game. Makhtar Ndiaye, a cousin, played at North Carolina (1996-98), and ended up with a pro career, primarily overseas.
Pops Ndiaye was a late addition to UT’s signing class, essentially replacing the departed Yemi Makanjuola, another African post.
“I had other options, like LSU, South Carolina, TCU, Iona, Auburn, Eastern Illinois,’’ Ndiaye said. “I thought Tennessee was my best option, especially knowing the team chemistry. Coach Martin, Cuonzo, is all about work and dedication.’’
Ndiaye checked in for the first session of summer school. His immediate dedication is geared to conditioning and improving his offensive skills.
He said the injuries and rehab time made it tough at Indian Hills, where he averaged only 2.5 points and 3.5 rebounds in the few games he played.
Pops scored 14 points Monday in his Rocky Top debut and 13 on Wednesday.
“I think I have the skill that’s required,’’ he said. “Right now, it depends on how I can use them in a game and help my team.
“I got a lot better (at Indian Hills) even though I didn’t average a lot because of the injuries.
“And I’ve gotten a lot better since I got here. They’ve been training me pretty good. I’ve picked up some skills around the basket.’’
News Sentinel 96, Rice Buick 84: Wayne Chism led the News Sentinel (2-0) with 33 points. UT guard Brandon Lopez added 17.
Josh Richardson of UT topped Rice with 35. Armani Moore of UT scored 14 in the second half after a late arrival. Incoming UT freshman Darius Thompson added eight.
DeRoyal 111, Choice Spine 98: Bobby Maze led a balanced DeRoyal attack with 21. A.J. Davis added 19 and D’Montre Edwards 16.
Boo Jackson had 16 for Choice Spine.
Next Level 121, Campus Lights 116: Jordan McRae scored 61 in a losing effort. Chris Lofton’s 35 paced Next Level. Robert Hubbs added 19.