GAME DAY FEATURE: Papa Ndao
Dec. 28, 2012
by Nikki Philpot
It takes more than just a team's five starters to win a basketball game. The bench needs to be strong - both in depth and consistency. A player that comes off of the bench must be able to physically and mentally enter into the momentum of a game already in progress.
The Hawks have a few of those players, and you have seen one in every game this season...#32.
Nine games into his second season, you have watched Papa Ndao contribute on both the offensive and defensive ends of the court. He has drained threes here in Hagan Arena against Yale and American and filled up the box score on national television against Florida State and nationally ranked Creighton.
The 6-foot-8 forward played in every game of his freshman season and has continued this consistent pattern into his sophomore year. Ndao has maintained his every-game status through a commitment to improvement, which has led to an increased trust from his teammates. He admits that this trust has helped him in terms of adjustment and comfort from his rookie campaign to this year.
"My understanding of the game has improved and my teammates trust me more," said Ndao. "The coaches do the same thing. I'm just trying to go out there, have fun, and not let anybody down."
Ndao sharpened his game in two different ways coming into the 2012-13 season. Physically, he reveals that he has worked the most on his ballhandling. Mentally, his focus has been on increasing his knowledge of the game.
"I watched a lot of film to try to understand how people guard us and how we are supposed to react when we are guarded a certain way," said Ndao. "I try to understand what we are supposed to do in certain situations."
In terms of his Division I athletic career, Ndao has certainly come a long way in the past year and a half.
In terms of location, Ndao has come even farther.
Ndao played four years of high school basketball in Florida for national powerhouse Montverde Academy. As a senior, #32 averaged 10 points and four rebounds per game and shot 45 percent from the field and 75 percent from the foul line.
Although Ndao remembers his high school career as both "great" and "fun," he credits Montverde with teaching him the work ethic required to play basketball at the collegiate level.
"At my high school, you had to show extreme discipline," Ndao explained. "You had to work hard to even get on the court, let alone play a lot of minutes. I had to earn everything."
And that's just what he did. In 2009-10, Ndao co-captained the Montverde Eagles to a 23-5 season en route to a runner-up finish at the ESPN Rise National High School Invitational. That year, he played alongside current Division I standouts James Bell (Villanova), Jamail Jones (Marquette/Florida Gulf Coast), and Steve Moundou-Missi (Harvard) and former Division I stars Ugo Okam (Harvard) and Haukur Palsson (Maryland).
"We enjoyed it and we had a great team," Ndao stated after a moment of reflection. He then smiled and added, "We made the most out of it."
Before his standout career at Montverde, Ndao played at the SEEDS Academy in his native Senegal, West Africa. The SEEDS Academy is the primary program of the SEEDS (Sports for Education and Economic Development in Senegal) Foundation, a college-preparatory boarding school created in 2003 whose mission aims to provide Senegalese boys with a "year-round, rigorous academic, athletic, and leadership development curriculum."
Ndao was born in Senegal and attended SEEDS Academy from 11 to 14 years of age before eventually coming to the States to play high school ball for Montverde. While Montverde gave Ndao the opportunity to enhance his skills, it was at SEEDS Academy that Ndao developed them.
"I started playing around with my friends and competing against my older brother," explained Ndao in reference to what inspired him to attend SEEDS Academy. "That's how I got hooked on wanting to win all the time."
Although Ndao feels that there are significant differences between American and Senegalese culture, he reveals that the basketball culture of both countries shares many similarities. The Hawk praises SEEDS for the opportunities he experienced and teachings he learned at the start of his athletic career.
"We had NBA coaches come to help us out and to teach our coaches how to run a program," said Ndao. "We learned the style of play at a young age so that when we could come over here [to the United States] or go somewhere else, we would already be used to it."
When you watch his particular style of play, it is entirely believable that Ndao has been training at a competitive level for the past nine years, nearly half of his life. Regardless of the Hawks' status in each contest at the time of his entrance, Ndao steps onto the court ready to play - every time.
He understands how to approach each game, each situation. It doesn't matter how big the game or situation may be; he never appears to feel pressure. However, it does seem that the bigger the stage, the better he performs.
Ndao's breakthrough performance came December 1 at Creighton. In front of 17,390 spectators, the sophomore forward scored a career-high eight points on 3-of-5 shooting and 2-of-4 from outside to go along with three defensive boards, one assist, and a steal.
He did this in just 16 minutes of play. Against the 11th-ranked team in the nation.
"Every time we play great competition or somewhere where the crowd doesn't like us, I'm really excited to play," Ndao stated with a gleam in his eye. "I want to play in those games really badly. That was one of those games."
And, as you know, he lights it up on the home stage, too.
In two early-season home games against Yale and American, Ndao subbed into games in which the Hawks held commanding leads. Against Yale, the sophomore subbed in with 8:59 remaining in the first half. After a Yale jumper closed the Hawks' lead to six, Ndao answered with a three to bring SJU's lead back to nine points. With that momentum, the Hawks would go on to lead by eight points or more for the remainder of the game.
He made his mark again just two weeks later against American. It was the same story.
He subbed in.
American hit a three.
He hit a three.
He subbed out.
He doesn't give up leads. The pattern is this: Ndao always answers back.
"I'm trying to make the right play and play hard," said Ndao. "That's what I try to do."
The Crimson and Gray also depend on Ndao to make a difference in tight situations, as he did against Florida State.
Ndao came into a 17-16 game in favor of the Seminoles at the 9:59 mark of the first half. Ndao pulled down an offensive board and put it back up for a layup to put the Hawks back up, 18-17. Just 25 seconds later, Ndao dished a pass to senior Carl Jones, who drained the three that put the Hawks ahead 21-18 at the 9:07 mark.
Ndao tallied two points, one assist, and four rebounds against Florida State in the championship game of the 2012 Coaches vs. Cancer Classic at the Barclays Center ... in just seven minutes.
But there's more.
His two points, one assist, and one of four boards came in the first 52 seconds after he entered the game.
Ndao's character is what allows him to make a difference in these situations - he trusts himself and he trusts his teammates. And, with that same Hawk pride that every fan feels when the squad takes the court, he knows that this is a special bunch. He believes that this team is talented enough to win every game - and tonight's game against Iona is no different.
"We can beat anybody on our schedule, but it's about us playing the best basketball that we can play," Ndao discussed. "It's not about [our opponents]. It's just about us playing our best basketball."
The Hawks will play two more road games at Drexel and Morgan State before returning home on January 9 to kick off Atlantic 10 conference action against nationally ranked Butler. Ndao enjoys the rivalry of conference games for one obvious reason: the competition.
In terms of individual competition, Ndao shared his excitement about playing against St. Bonaventure's 7-foot forward Youssoupha Ndoye - a fellow SEEDS alum.
"I went to SEEDS first, before he [Ndoye] got there," explained Ndao.
Since Ndao began his time at SEEDS at the age of 11 instead of 14, the usual age upon entrance, the Hawks' sophomore forward is the youngest person to have ever attended the academy.
"After I came over here, he went to SEEDS. We didn't meet each other until last year when we went home for our camp at SEEDS. We got to talk a little bit."
Ndao loves the game, and it's obvious that he enjoys playing the game here at Saint Joseph's. He explained that he enjoys his time more this season. His approach is more comfortable. More relaxed. More mature.
Ndao may have begun his basketball story in Senegal and drafted the early pages in Florida, but we sure are glad that he is writing a chapter here on Hawk Hill.