Gorgui Dieng has been one of the best surprises for the Wolves this season, especially his play of late, but one person who isn’t surprised by the 26-year-old center is his college friend, Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
They were stars at the same time at Louisville, when the school was having great success in both sports.
Dieng was selected with the 21st pick by Utah, then immediately traded to the Wolves during the 2013 NBA draft. Bridgewater was selected with the 32nd pick by the Vikings in the 2014 NFL draft.
While Bridgewater quickly became a starter, it really has taken until this year — Dieng’s third season in the league — for him to stand out. He’s averaging a career high of 9.9 points per game, but he’s really come on since being named a starter Jan. 21. He has averaged 13.8 points and 8.6 rebounds over the past 22 games, all starts. He also is ninth in the NBA in field-goal percentage at 54.0 percent.
In the Wolves’ 114-108 victory over Memphis on Wednesday, Dieng led the team with a game-high +20 in over 31 minutes of action and he finished with 15 points, seven assists, six rebounds and three blocks. He is playing great basketball, but Bridgewater said he knew Dieng could reach this level of play.
“I watched him at Louisville and he and I were very close,” Bridgewater said. “He showed flashes there and he showed that he could be a dominant player. He has a great midrange shot and he can get rebounds and he’s great on the defensive side of the ball. So, I mean, I was aware that he was going to be as good as he is right now.”
Dieng reached the Final Four with Louisville in 2012 and won the NCAA championship in 2013. Bridgewater recalled one of the great games Dieng played that championship season, when Louisville won at Syracuse 58-53 that championship season and Dieng finished with 11 points, 14 rebounds, two steals and two blocks.
“They used to have rivalry games against Syracuse, and Gorgui would always show up in those games,” Bridgewater said. “Syracuse used to run a 2-3 defense and Louisville would get the ball to Gorgui right in the midrange by the free-throw line and he would turn around and hit that midrange shot every time. There was one of those games that he stepped up multiple times when they played Syracuse. Those were just some of the facets he showed at Louisville.”
How would Bridgewater describe Dieng as a person?
“He’s a nice guy, great personality,” he said. “You can ask anyone about him and they’ll all give you the same response. Gorgui has a big heart. That’s what makes people really appreciate.
“I would say he’s a great person, a great friend, and I’m pretty sure he’s a great teammate, also.”
So while some NBA fans might be surprised at Dieng’s rise to being one of the core pieces of the Wolves’ young roster, Bridgewater is not.
“I’m not surprised at all,” he said. “Everyone back in Louisville expected him to be where he is today and I expected that, also. He’s worked extremely hard ever since he came here. He has been nothing but a positive person. It’s great to see things going in his favor.”
Bridgewater says he has been spending his offseason trying to get his body healthy for training camp.
“I’ve been hunting, hunting some pheasants with the offensive lineman, Matt Kalil,” he said. “I’m working out in south Florida, but also relaxing and allowing my body to recover.”
Bridgewater said that relaxation is about to end as players are going to get together for workouts.
“A group of us are working out together, our group together here will be in the first of April, all of the wide receivers we’re trying to get together, work out, and spend some time with each other,” he said.
While Bridgewater, who grew up in Miami, has been spending time in the South, he also has been making regular trips to Minneapolis.
“I have been up there quite a bit, actually,” he said. “Each month this offseason, I have been up there for about a week. It’s great to be around the city, talk with the coaches. They miss us and we miss those guys. It’s great being back up there and having a good time.”
The Vikings made two big free-agent signings for the offensive line this week, adding tackle Andre Smith to a one-year deal Thursday and guard Alex Boone to a four-year deal Wednesday. Bridgewater was asked for his reaction.
“Definitely, it’s good to see the team making some moves in free agency,” he said. “We feel like we’re a few pieces away and to be able to add different guys through free agency is pretty good. Coach [Mike] Zimmer and the owners have been very active and it’s just good to see we’re doing some different things and going to have some competition up front. That’s going to continue to make our team better. It’s good to see them adding different guys, and we can’t wait to get started.”
• The Timberwolves (22-46) are fifth in the NBA draft order according to the current standings, and they could move up or down depending on the lottery. The closest team above them is New Orleans (25-42).
• Update on Gophers football players who recently left the program: Highly touted running back Berkley Edwards has transferred to Central Michigan, where he might focus on running track. Receiver Desmond Gant has transferred to Northeast Oklahoma A&M, a junior college program. Cornerback Craig James has transferred to Southern Illinois.
• The Gophers football team is not expecting to get a medical redshirt for Ace Rogers, the redshirt senior safety who played in only three games last season after suffering an ACL tear.
• Byung Ho Park is hitting .357 with three home runs and nine RBI for the Twins in spring training, having a much better start than former Japanese signee Tsuyoshi Nishioka, who is still under contract with the Hanshin Tigers in Japan. He hit .262 with 14 RBI and 20 runs scored in 50 games with Hanshin last season.
• The Gophers men’s track and field squad is 19th in the USTFCCA Division I John McDonnell Program of the Year award, which charts the success of track programs across the calendar year, including cross-country and both indoor and outdoor track and field. The Gophers finished 19th at the cross-country championships in the fall and 44th at the indoor championships last week. … One of the first moves in starting construction of the new athletics facilities was tearing down the former stands at the old Gophers track.
• Former Vikings offensive line coach Jeff Davidson is now with the Chargers.
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