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: [email protected] Facebook Twitter Google+last_img read more

The NHL’s Winter Classic and All-Star Game still matter

first_imgCBS Sports’ Chris Bengel reported on Jan. 3 that the 2020 NHL Winter Classic between the Nashville Predators and host Dallas Stars at the Cotton Bowl drew the smallest television ratings since the game’s inauguration in 2008.For the first time, the Winter Classic failed to draw two million viewers, as this year’s event managed around 1.97-million. It’s the fifth straight year the game drew less than three million viewers. The novelty of outdoor games such as the Winter Classic may be waning on a national level, and the quality of play at the All-Star Game remains a mockery of good hockey. Cynics dismiss the Winter Classic and the All-Star Game as nothing more than an annual cash grab by the league.But as long as interest in both events remain strong at the local level, no one should fault the NHL for capitalizing on it. Professional hockey is a business, and part of it is stoking fan support at every level.The Winter Classic or the All-Star Game might not matter to the average NHL fan when viewed from afar. But when one of those events is staged in that fan’s hometown, they’ll happily pony up whatever the league wants to attend those games. MORE: What the 2020 Winter Classic meant to the NHL, Dallas and the southern hockey fanBengel suggested one reason for this year’s decline is the Winter Classic went up against two college football bowl games. He also pointed out it’s no longer the only outdoor game staged annually by the league — the Los Angeles Kings and Colorado Avalanche will play an outdoor game on Feb. 15 as part of the NHL’s Stadium Series.Some observers might attribute the decline to this year’s Winter Classic participants — the Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators — not coming from traditional hockey markets. Both clubs do lack a recognizable superstar on the level of Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby or Washington’s Alex Ovechkin.While the Winter Classic may have been a dud in the national American ratings, the Dallas Morning News’ Matthew DeFranks reported that the game set records in Dallas and Nashville as the most-watched regular-season contest for both clubs.For the host Stars, the Winter Classic was a smashing success. DeFranks noted the game drew 85,630 fans, making it the second most-attended game in NHL history. The demand for tickets forced the league to open up more seating. He also pointed out the Stars ordered more Winter Classic jerseys than any previous club. Those jerseys sold out within two days. Around 20,000 Predators fans also attended the game.How the game fares in its host market explains why the annual Winter Classic still matters even if its luster has faded on the national level. It helps sell the game, especially in so-called ‘non-traditional’ markets, and generates excitement among the local fan base. It opens those supporters to a unique game-watching experience they otherwise might never get to see.Winter Classic 2020: A recap of the Stars’ New Year’s Day win over NashvilleThe same can be said for the league’s annual All-Star Game. Some observers believe the event is no longer a worthy showcase for the game’s elite talent and call for its abolishment. The game’s quality of play, admittedly, is a joke: players want to avoid injury from participating in a glorified exhibition contest so they refrain from physical contact, turning the game into an offensive free-for-all.However, while the All-Star Game struggles in national television ratings, it draws well in the host cities. Fans get to watch the league’s best talent all play in one place, enjoy their efforts in the skills competitions and provide plenty of support during the game itself.The St. Louis Business Journal reports the upcoming All-Star Game in St. Louis could bring an estimated $20 million economic impact to the local community. The whole weekend annually serves as a boon to the host NHL city during the post-Christmas period when travel and tourism are down.last_img read more