Minnesota Timberwolves center Gorgui Dieng will never forget seeing a pregnant woman helplessly lying on the floor waiting for medical attention in a severely antiquated hospital in his hometown of Kebeber, Senegal, about 3 1/2 years ago. It was the same hospital Dieng was born in on Jan. 18, 1990. There was nothing electronic at this hospital. Most beds didn’t have mattresses and patients lay on springs. Babies were warmed in incubators by a light bulb. The odds of getting decent health care were slim.
The NBA veteran is better known in Senegal for what he has done off the court in saving and improving lives than for what he has done on the court in North America. Dieng, 27, is averaging 6.8 points and 4.6 rebounds per game in his fifth season with the Timberwolves. He started playing basketball when he was 15 and played in college at Louisville. “He is a celebrity in Senegal in large part because he’s been all over the media there with his foundation and all he is doing to help his people,” said Quenton Marty, president of Minneapolis-based non-profit Matter.
“Gorgui doesn’t want to be known as just a basketball player,” said New York Knicks scout Makhtar N’Diaye, a Senegal native and former NBA player. “In my opinion, he’s becoming a brand in Senegal and is an inspiration to the youth. He’s working towards becoming an icon. It’s all about legacy for him. “Many people have come before him and tried. He came and took it to the next level. The best is yet to come for him.”
Dikembe Mutombo: People are talking about Angola. Angola has some great facilities that we might use in the future. We are looking at some of the logistics of how we are going to build. We are looking at some of the testing in some of the area. I don’t think the game will continue to be played here in South Africa. We will seek another part. Maybe in Senegal or Nigeria one day.
Back in 2007, when Dieng attended the 16-and-under tournament, he was spotted by the coach of Senegal’s national team. In 2009, after SEED, he was invited to attend national team tryouts in Italy. By far the youngest player there, he roomed a few doors down from someone with quite a bit more experience: Diop. When the national team wasn’t practicing, Dieng did his rookie duties — running errands for the older guys, especially Diop, who he peppered with questions about the league. “I was coming to his room 24/7,” Dieng remembered. “He wanted me to go get stuff for him. I’m going to go get it, but I’m going to keep asking him questions. “‘What’s the NBA like?’ “‘What do people do?’ “‘Is it true that this guy shoots like that?’ “I basically go in my room only to sleep … [When] everybody’s resting, I’d be in Sagana’s room talking to him. He’d be like, ‘Yo, kid, go to your room. I want to take a nap.’ I’d be like ‘Nah.’ I just kept asking questions.”
“I could just feel the hunger,” Diop said. “That’s the first kid I ever met from Senegal who was asking me those kinds of questions … You could see he wanted to make it.” Dieng learned all about U.S. basketball during those tryouts, then put it to use later that year. Coached by Engelbrecht, his SEED class traveled to the States to participate in a Nike Global Challenge tournament. They saw tough competition right away. Their first game was against Team USA Midwest, made up of elite high schoolers. Dieng won the game with a buzzer-beating turnaround 3.