Control center: Cardinals’ defense thrives on Dieng’s court vision

first_imgWhen Gorgui Dieng left Senegal, he was a wire-thin teenager who only knew a few words of English. He enrolled at the upstart Huntington Prep School in West Virginia in 2009 – a 19-year-old with minimal basketball experience.Dieng didn’t come to West Virginia with polished fundamentals. Instead, the 6-foot-11 center made his mark with length and awareness, developing into a defensive force in the middle of the Huntington Prep defense.“He was very raw and skinny,” Huntington Prep head coach Rob Fulford said. “But he had an extremely high basketball IQ.”With his innate timing and awareness, Dieng swatted his way from the Sports For Education and Economic Development in Senegal Academy (SEEDS), to Huntington Prep, and finally to a scholarship offer from Louisville head coach Rick Pitino. Now a junior center with the Cardinals, Dieng has gained strength and refined his offensive game to become one of the most indispensible players on the No. 1 team in the country, which will play No. 6 Syracuse Saturday at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Ky.Though his offensive contributions are increasing, Dieng still relishes the dirty work on the defensive end of the floor that got him to where he is today.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textSince he started playing basketball, Dieng’s role has been straightforward: Rebound the ball, score when it’s available and make life difficult for anyone trying to convert around the rim.That’s exactly what Fulford got when he recruited Dieng to Huntington Prep.Dieng learned basketball during his time at SEEDS Academy. Dieng earned a spot on Team Senegal in the 2009 Nike Global Challenge in Oregon, where Fulford heard about his talent from contacts covering the event.“He was a big time shot blocker and rebounder,” Fulford said. “His timing was very good and he had a knack for the ball.”Dieng channeled those skills into 15.4 points, 12.6 rebounds and a staggering 7.2 blocks per game in his senior year at Huntington Prep. For his teammates, Dieng’s presence under the basket was reassuring. He was always the last line of protection to cover for their mistakes.“You could tell right away that defense was going to be his thing because he was so athletic,” said Tyrel Edwards, Dieng’s Huntington Prep teammate. “As a forward, you always knew if your man got by you, he’d be around the basket to help out by making guys change shots or just getting a block.”Dieng kept protecting the basket when he got to Louisville. As a freshman, he ranked third in the Big East with 1.9 blocks per game.Dieng improved on that mark during his sophomore year, leading the Big East in blocks and finishing eighth nationally with 3.2 per game. Dieng directed a memorable onslaught against Michigan State’s offense in last season’s NCAA Tournament West Regional semifinal. He rejected seven shots as the Cardinals held the Spartans to 44 points in an upset victory to earn a trip the Elite Eight.“He was very disruptive. He pulled off some great blocked shots,” Michigan State forward Draymond Green said after that game on March 22. “That’s what he does. That’s his strength.”Dieng still wreaks havoc on opposing frontcourts in the post. His effect on the Cardinals was never more obvious than in the aftermath of a Nov. 23 victory over Missouri, when Dieng took a hard charge and fell to the ground, breaking his left wrist.He was initially ruled out for four to six weeks, as Louisville faced then-No. 5 Duke the day after Missouri. The Blue Devils won 76-71 in Dieng’s first game out. They out-blocked the Cardinals 6-1. It remains Louisville’s only loss of the season.Dieng missed seven games, working back into the lineup for a Dec. 29 game against in-state rival Kentucky.Dieng’s timing was off because of his absence. He still labored with a slim cardinal-red cast on his wrist.For Pitino, a flawed Dieng was more effective than his alternatives at center.“Even coming off a month layoff he’s still a lot better than what we have at that position mainly because he communicates so well,” Pitino said at a press conference before the Kentucky game. “He’s smarter than everybody. It’s not just the physical part, but he talks constantly. He tells people where to go. He picks up the scouting report perfectly.”Dieng only took four shots against Kentucky and found himself deep in foul trouble. Dieng made big plays, though, none more important than his ranging block on a 3-point attempt by Kentucky’s Archie Goodwin with one minute left in regulation as Louisville held on for an 80-77 victory.In his four games since, Dieng has asserted himself offensively. He has averaged 11.3 points (compared to a 9.2 average for the season), including a 16-point performance in a victory against Seton Hall Jan. 9.Even with the offensive explosiveness the Cardinals show in spurts, Louisville’s stifling defense has carried it for most of the season. The Cardinals boast the second-best turnover differential in the nation, thanks to the fast hands of guards Peyton Siva and Russ Smith.When opponents navigate their way through the swarming quickness of Louisville’s backcourt, they find themselves trying to overcome the bulked-up 6-foot-11, 245-pound Dieng.Though he’s found a 15-foot jump shot and throws down a definitive dunk when he gets the chance, Dieng flourishes most when he’s playing defense around the basket.That’s the responsibility he’s used to. The duty he most likes to perform.“I always say I don’t care if I score or not,” Dieng said before Louisville’s dominating win over South Florida Friday. “I just want to do my role.” Comments Published on January 16, 2013 at 12:22 am Contact Jacob: jspramuk@syr.edu Facebook Twitter Google+last_img read more

Erickson: Masters win would only be beginning in Woods’ comeback

first_imgEverybody loves a good comeback.The Philadelphia Eagles’ 28 unanswered points in seven-and-a-half minutes to beat the New York Giants in Week 15 was one of the best moments in the 2010 NFL season.Lance Armstrong was given a less than 50 percent chance to live after being diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1996. From 1999 to 2005, he won seven Tour de France titles and is still living strong 15 years later.Michael Vick went from being one of the most hated men in football, with little hope of making a statement in the NFL ever again – and now he’s the starting quarterback for the Eagles.Yet, the sports world is still waiting for one more comeback.One year ago, Tiger Woods made his return to golf. After his now-infamous personal life scandal blew up news outlets during Thanksgiving 2009, Woods made his return to golf at the 2010 Masters.Yet, he still hasn’t solidified his comeback.He didn’t quite make the comeback he probably wanted in hopes of making the general public forget about his personal life. Woods has yet to even win an event since.Days after winning the 2008 U.S. Open Woods’ announced he needed knee surgery due to a torn ACL.A year later, his wife found out about his alleged sexcapades.Through 20 events over the past 17 months, Woods’ play hasn’t been anywhere near what it was pre-scandal.Sure, Woods tore his ACL, but he still managed a few wins in 2009 after the 2008 surgery.One year since his return, is it finally time for Tiger to return to the top of the golf world?Well, that depends. Will the old Woods show up or not?Last year, Woods shared a fourth place finish at the Masters and since then has struggled with his short game.This season hasn’t looked too promising for the former course god.Woods opened his season at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course and tied for 44th, one of the worst starts of his career.Now only one day into the Masters, Woods finished -1 with 71 strokes, placing him 24th. With two more rounds to play, if there were ever a time for Woods to make a comeback – in the match and his career – it would be now.Ask any athlete and he or she will tell you that your play during the biggest games is what matters most.Take the UConn men’s basketball team, for example. The Huskies finished ninth in their conference with a 9-9 conference record, but charged their way through the Big East Tournament. In the NCAA tournament, UConn upset San Diego State, defeated streaking Arizona and Kentucky, and finally dominated Butler to claim the national title.UConn didn’t have its strongest regular season, but the Huskies won the games that really counted.If there were ever a time for Woods’ pre-scandal, pre-knee surgery self to appear, now would be the time. Now is the time for him to play at his best, ? la UConn through March Madness or the Green Bay Packers through the NFL playoffs.In this year’s field, there really isn’t a front-runner or a favorite to run away with the green jacket.After one day, Rorey McIlroy and Alvro Quiros lead the field at -7 with 65 strokes. Neither McIlroy nor Quiros has ever won a major in their young professional careers.Defending Masters champion Phil Mickelson finished at -2 with 70 strokes in 2010. The only other green jacket winner doing better than Mickelson is Trevor Immelman (-3 with 69 strokes), who won in 2008.If Woods can find the inner strength that formerly captivated golf fans around the world, then expect to see him wearing black and red on Sunday.Despite his rocky start to the season, Woods is still very much in the running to win his first major since 2008. If Woods wins that coveted green jacket a fifth time, don’t expect his comeback to be complete.While a win would certainly launch him into comeback mode, especially with the dismal start he has had this season, Woods’ comeback requires more than just one majors win.A green jacket would start him off on the right foot, but he’ll need to finish the rest of the season strong, with a few more wins if not another major win.Vick wasn’t just named the starting quarterback and then blessed with a complete comeback. He had to work for it, and it wasn’t until he led the Eagles to the playoffs that his comeback was truly solidified.A Masters win for Woods would be like Vick being named starting quarterback. The work is just beginning.While Woods has a decent chance at a major win this weekend, it’s only the start of a longer process for him. Until he returns to being a dominating presence on the course -or at least a shadow of that figure – that process will continue to be ongoing.Kelly is a sophomoreintending to major in journalism. Do you think Woods has a good chance at thisyear’s green jacket? Do you think this could be his comeback year? Let her knowwhat you think at kerickson@badgerherald.comor follower her on Twitter @kellyerickson4.last_img read more