Army-Navy senior Cheikh N'diaye says teams play him tough defensively, forcing him to work on developing his offensive game.
Cheikh N’diaye came to the United States from Dakar, Senegal, four years ago, and hasn’t been home since.
At 7-feet-1, he has developed as both a basketball player and a person in his time at the Army-Navy Academy in Carlsbad.
He recently signed to play basketball at Oregon State. And because basketball has taken him all over the U.S., he feels comfortable about leaving the security of Army-Navy and heading to Corvallis to play for the Beavers.
Q: How was the transition to living in the U. S.?
A: It was hard. But I’ve worked hard to make things work. One thing I need to make clear, though. I came to the U.S. to go to school and get an education. Basketball was second.
Q: What were some of the hardest things to learn in the transition?
A: The language and the culture. I didn’t speak a word of English when I got here, so just being in class, trying to understand what was being said was hard. I’d be up until 2-3 a.m. doing homework.
Q: Did you have any idea what you were getting yourself into?
A: Not really. I thought the basketball part would be easy, but it wasn’t. It was really hard because I didn’t speak English, so it was hard to understand coaches.
Q: Was there anyone who helped the most?
A: Coach (John) Maffucci was great my first year. He helped with everything. I couldn’t have survived without him.
Q: Did you fit into your dorm room?
A: Really, it isn’t that bad. I was fortunate to get in with good people, and my roommate, John Bulaich, took me in. I talked to him a lot. He really helped me with my English.
Q: Has the military part of being at Army-Navy been hard?
A: Not really. Actually, it has taught me leadership. The ROTC program here is very good. We train hard once a week, have to be in formation. No one escapes duty. We all have jobs that need to be done, and we do them.
Q: Was the basketball part what you expected?
A: I was always a good defensive player, so the defensive part was easy. Defense wins games. But teams play good defense here, they defend me tough, so the offensive side has been harder for me.
Q: Senegal is an African nation. Tell me about your homeland.
A: It’s really very modern, not much different from here. We have cars and my family lives in a house. I do get asked a lot about what it’s like back home.
Q: How did you get to the U. S.?
A: My parents wanted something better for me. They wanted to send me to France, but the basketball there was professional with no schooling. So they looked on the Internet for boarding schools in the U.S. They came across Army-Navy, saw that it had a good reputation, had students from all over the world. My father contacted John Maffucci and was assured I would be safe here, taken care of, play basketball and get an education.
Q: How much better are you now than when you arrived?
A: On the court, I’m much better offensively. I had skill, but I never practiced. I’ve worked three years perfecting a jump shot. I watch Kevin Durrant whenever I can. I want to shoot the ball over my head because no one can block that shot. And I think I’ve gotten good at it.
Q: How much better can you be?
A: If I keep working, and I intend to do that, I can get a lot better. I want to help the academy win a basketball championship.
Q: What are the things you need most to work on?
A: I need to run the floor better. I must run the floor in college, so I better start now. If I’m not in position for a rebound, I better get out and run. I need to keep working on my rebounding. I’m not a bad free-throw shooter, but I need to keep working on that, too.
Q: You’ve signed with Oregon State. How intense was the recruiting process?
A: A lot of people wanted me, and I talked to a lot of people. I had a lot of information, took all my visits, so it was tough.
Q: What finally swung you to Oregon State?
A: Kansas, UC Irvine, Miami and California were among my final choices, but in the end Oregon State wanted me more and the academics were a good fit. I feel I made the right choice.
Q: Do you have a major picked out?
A: I’d like to do something in accounting or computer science. That interests me very much.
Q: Is the NBA the ultimate goal?
A: I’m still in high school. I’m going to take this step by step. You never know what’s going to happen in the future. I’ll continue to work hard and see where it takes me.
School: Army-Navy Academy
Born: Dec. 10, 1993 in Dakar, Senegal
Favorite gym: Thomas & Mack Center on the UNLV campus.
Least favorite gym: Santa Fe Christian, fans talk a lot of trash during the game.
Favorite shot or move: Turnaround jumper.
Favorite food: Asian, rice with veggies.
What’s on your dorm walls: Posters of Kevin Durrant.
Superstitions: Have to where my favorite compression shirt during games. If I don’t have it, I have to go back and get it.
Favorite NBA team: Boston Celtics.
Favorite basketball player: Kevin Durrant.
Favorite athlete in another sport: Didier Drogba, soccer player from the Ivory Coast. One of the all-time leading scorers for Chelsea. A center/forward, he currently plays for Shanghai Shenhua.
Favorite cities you’ve visited: Las Vegas and Chicago. Las Vegas is exciting. Chicago is a really nice city.