Louisville center Gorgui Dieng has come a long way -- both on and off the court -- since he left Kebemer, Senegal, and came to the United States three years ago. He arrived as a bean pole with minimal skills and no grasp of the English language. Last week, his shot-blocking and rebounding has taken his Louisville team to the Final Four, and to the precipice of one of the biggest and most dramatic Final Four matchups in modern history.
Dieng's continued development is one of the key reasons the Cardinals have their shot at intrastate drama Saturday. You can read my profile on the big man (excerpted below) right here.
PHOENIX -- Gorgui Dieng had to use a towel to hide his face. He doesn't mean to do it. He knows, when his coach is serious, that his laughing could be seen as a sign of disrespect. But when Rick Pitino boils over, irate at a lack of execution or a silly play or something guard Russ Smith just did -- OK, usually at something Smith just did -- Dieng can't help it.
"It tickles me," Dieng said. "I told him, 'Coach, I don't want you to get mad at me or think I disrespect you.' I can't control myself. The things he say, when you hear that, you gonna laugh. He's so funny."
For an ordinary college basketball player, this relationship might not work. The coach would take offense; team chemistry would come into question; sprints would be swiftly prescribed.
But Dieng is hardly an ordinary college basketball player. Just three years ago, he was an unknown, raw prospect playing soccer with his brothers and taking life lessons from his father in his hometown of Kebemer, Senegal. The path that guided the 6-foot-11 center to Louisville is as unique as the relationships he formed with his coach and teammates upon arriving there.