Updated Sun, Jun 9, 2013 5:00 am
Ask Maurice Ndour where he’s going to play basketball next season and he just might respond to you in one of the five languages he speaks fluently. Ask him to respond in English and the Senegal native will tell you without hesitation, “Ohio University."
Ndour, a native of Thies, Senegal, is currently playing basketball for Monroe College in New Rochelle, N.Y. by way of Okayama Gakugeikan High School in Japan. He is a 6-foot-9-inch, 200-pound shot-blocking machine. The latest commit to join head coach Jim Christian’s first recruiting class as the Ohio men’s basketball coach.
Ndour is regarded as one of the top junior college prospects in the country, sparking interest from a slew of Division I schools including Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, St. Johns and Providence. Ndour chose Ohio last week over offers from West Virginia, Cincinnati and Western Kentucky.
“Team chemistry, the coaching staff, you know, great people and the way they run their offense,” Ndour said on why he chose the Green and White. “I think it's the perfect fit for me, the way they play. The way they practice, it's all about executing. I really love that.”
“Maurice is a kid that wasn't going to get swayed by the logo on the shirt because you know he had a lot of high-majors on him," explained Monroe head coach Jeff Brustad. "Mo was about relationships with the coaching staff, and the people that were going to be coaching him for the next two years. That was extremely important to him."
Growing up in Senegal, Ndour will have traveled a long way by the time he arrives in Athens for next season. About 16,000 miles, actually, if you calculate the distance he’s traveled from Senegal to Japan to New York and eventually to Ohio. It’s a long journey that started when Ndour was just in middle school.
When Ndour finished middle school, he was offered a full scholarship to go play high school ball at Okayama Gakugeikan High School in Okayama, Japan. His family stayed in Senegal while the teenage Ndour traveled nearly 8,500 miles away from home. In Japan, Ndour was dominating both on and off the court. Already fluent in four languages before moving to Japan—he knew French, English and two native African languages by the time he was in middle school—the young scholar mastered the Japanese language, becoming fluent in just six months.
However, Ndour knew he wanted to take his game to the next level, so after high school he decided to come to America. He wanted to face a higher level of talent while continuing to develop as a real force on the court.
“One day my mom just told me 'Why don't you go play basketball?'” joked Ndour about the origin of his hoops career. “Its funny my mom told me to go play basketball but she's never saw me play basketball.”
If she ever gets the chance, there’s no doubt Ndour’s mother would be proud.
An unconventional big man—slightly undersized but highly skilled—Ndour flourished in his first year at Monroe. Despite being fifth on the team in minutes played last season, Ndour was second on the team in rebounds and field goal percentage and first in blocked shots, averaging nearly 2.5 per game. This was on a team that featured two of the top JUCO players in the nation last season in Orlando Sanchez and Drimir Ferguson, both of whom are with Division I programs this season.
“He's what coaches call a high-motor guy,” Brustad said. “He can rebound out of his area. He can contest and block shots. He's a great help defender. He does a good job…helping people do screens and showing and recovering; great, great teammate, in terms of on the defensive concepts.”
Though labeled a defensive specialist, Ndour is also a skilled offensive threat. His long, slender frame and high-energy style allow him to fly down the court quickly. A high-efficiency shooter, Ndour can play multiple positions on the court. He is used to playing overseas where big men are forced to learn ball handling and shooting skills as much as rebounding and shot blocking.
“In some circles he's labeled as a three man. He can really shoot it. He can shoot at the three-point range,” Brustad said. “Most of the summer he played in the wing spot. And some of the schools that were recruiting him were recruiting him as a three guard.”
More suited to be a hybrid forward, Ndour has the ability to stretch the floor, play hardnosed defense in the paint and step outside and shoot. He possesses a unique skill set many coaches dream of for a player of his size.
“He's going to play pro,” Brustad said confidently. “I mean he'll play pro at some facet... Whether it's overseas or whether it's a shot at the NBA, he's got the tools and he's got drive and the work ethic.”
It’s that work ethic that has allowed Ndour to succeed everywhere he goes. It’s what made him want to make the 3,500 mile trip from Japan to New York last year to play. The challenge of playing against better players motivated him.
When discussing his favorite thing about America, work ethic popped up in the conversation again.
“Having the opportunity to play basketball and getting respected off of that. Hard work pays off here,” he said.
As the only returning player on a Monroe team that finished fifth overall in the NJCAA last season, the sophomore is looking forward to leading his team to another successful year.
“Any time I step on the floor I lead the team by example. I'm vocal. I talk to my teammates,” Ndour said.
When he arrives in Athens in 2013, he will be a junior and eligible to play immediately, joining the likes of fellow recruits D.J. Wingfield of Walnut Hills High School, Antonio Campbell of Cincinnati Taft High School and Wadley Mompremier of Miami Senior High School. Ndour will also be joined by fellow transfers Treg Setty, a freshman from Southern Illinois, and Javarez Willis, a junior from Texas Tech. Both are sitting out this season due to NCAA transfer rules.
“That's a team that you don't have to tell the players to play hard,” Ndour said of his future teammates.
Ndour, a computer information technology major, will provide more than just his basketball services next season. He’s also a great community member that Athens will be more than happy to welcome with open arms.
“(He is) very engaging, you know, he’s all about the team, he's all about the community,” Brustad said. “He's just one of those guys who gets it.”
Of course Ndour is already looking forward to his future after Athens as well. A big man with big dreams, he wants to pursue a pro career after graduating from Ohio University but knows he needs a plan for after basketball also.
“After college, hopefully I get a chance to go play pro basketball, get a contract to play basketball. But after basketball ends, I want to join a company, make some money and just help kids.”
Maybe he’ll decide to learn another language or two while he’s at it.