Mamadou: a name that echoes throughout UC Irvine and a face that’s plastered all over its campus (and its buses). The freshman phenom is not only the biggest in the Big West, standing at a wondrous 7-foot-6, but the tallest in all of college basketball. Mamadou Ndiaye, who is only 20 years old, was a starter for the UC Irvine Anteaters in their 2013-2014 campaign.
Mamadou moved to California six years ago from Dakar, Senegal to pursue his education and basketball career. Upon his move to the U.S., Mamadou attended Stoneridge Preparatory School in Simi Valley.
It was during a basketball game playing for Stoneridge that Mamadou began experiencing headaches and dizziness. “That’s when I knew I was sick,” Mamadou said. He was soon diagnosed with a brain tumor in his pituitary gland that controls growth. During that time, Mamadou’s main priority was focusing on his health and his recovery. With two brain surgeries and a “one month” recovery process, Mamadou was back on his feet.
Mamadou moved to Huntington Beach, where he attended Brethren Christian High School. According to the LA Times, “An intensive care unit nurse who met Ndiaye offered, with her husband, to become his legal guardian. Ndiaye agreed. He moved into the couple’s Huntington Beach home in January 2011 and enrolled at Brethren Christian, where he played his junior and senior seasons.”
During his years at Stoneridge, Brethren Christian, and now at UCI, Mamadou has always been “The Big Man on Campus.” This allows for a very large Mamadou fan club, no pun intended. People are always approaching him, high-fiving him (at least trying to), and are asking for autographs and photos.
According to Mamadou, the most difficult experience he’s had with fandom thus far was during his first week at UCI. “The first week school started, I couldn’t make it on time to any of my classes,” he said. “But it’s easy now. Now, I’m used to it. It was like that in high school and [every time] I go somewhere.”
“He’s an incredibly positive guy,” head Coach Russell Turner said to the LA Times. “He has more patience than anyone I’ve ever seen. Everyone who sees him wants to take a picture with him … But he manages it with an aplomb that shocks me.”
Mamadou had offers from various colleges to consider before choosing UCI –– offers from the University of Oregon, USC, Pepperdine, Georgetown and Arizona, to name a few. “I chose UCI because I live in Huntington Beach; it’s close to [home]. I also knew a lot of people who went here. I use to come to UCI to play open gym,” Mamadou said. “[UCI] offered me a scholarship and showed me love and friendliness. I wasn’t going to come to UCI, but they changed my mind and I decided to be an Anteater.”
Playing for a team that he felt comfortable in and one that had strong team chemistry was very important to Mamadou. “It was easy to come into this team. We’re like a family; we hang out together even outside of basketball. Everybody loves one another, thats what’s important,” Mamadou said.
Playing for Russell Turner, a former assistant coach for the Golden State Warriors, Mamadou’s first year was a unique experience. “He’s an emotional coach who likes to win. He pushes us, makes us work hard and wants us to get better every single time,” Mamadou said.
Turner coaches the tallest team in the NCAA, as Mamadou leads humbly at 7-foot-6 and with a 99 inch wing span (over eight feet wide), Ioannis Dimakopoulos at 7-foot-3, and Conor Clifford to follow at a solid 7 feet. Turner has completely revolutionized UCI basketball, composing a fresh roster and fantastic lineup to the 2013-2014 season. Big things are expected of this team, with hopes of claiming the Big West title and making an appearance in the NCAA tournament for the first time in UCI history.
Reflecting upon his most memorable game played for UCI, Mamadou admits that winning the Big West Conference Regular Season was a dream come true. “It was a dream to win regular season,” he said. “Also to make the NCAA tournament, but we didn’t.”
Looking back at the season as a whole, Mamadou admits that he “wasn’t happy with how the season ended.”
“I should’ve pushed myself more, blocked more shots. [The team as a whole] should have done more, and put more effort to win that game,” Mamadou said about their 61-58 loss against Cal Poly in the Big West tournament semifinal.
Mamadou wrapped up his first collegiate season with an impressive 271 points, 210 rebounds, 106 blocks and seven assists. The ’Eaters together finished 32-12 overall and 13-3 in conference play.
Though it’s only his first year, Mamadou has made his mark at UCI and in the NCAA. What the future holds for Mamadou is uncertain; however, with a drive to succeed and with a charismatic, warm personality such as his, there is no doubt that he’s headed for things bigger than just his height.