Six years ago, Timberwolves center Gorgui Dieng was a camp member at Basketball Without Borders, an outreach program through the NBA and FIBA designed to help grow the game in Africa.
On Thursday, Dieng spoke on a conference call from Africa, where this time he is the one imparting knowledge on the next generation of Basketball Without Borders campers — as well as getting ready to play in the NBA’s first-ever game Saturday on his native continent.
The sold-out NBA Africa game, which will air locally at 8 a.m. Saturday on ESPN from Johannesburg, South Africa, pits a roster of Team Africa (including Dieng, Luol Deng and Serge Ibaka) against Team World (comprised of players from several countries, headlined by Chris Paul and the Gasol brothers).
“It’s a pleasure for me to be here and share my experiences,” Dieng said. “Six years ago I was a camper, and today I feel lucky to be back. … I hope this game will help us spread basketball on this continent to make basketball bigger and bigger.”
While giving tips to young players, Dieng — a native of Senegal who averaged 9.7 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in his second season with the Wolves last year — is also soaking up plenty of knowledge while abroad.
He said he connected with Nigeria native and all-time NBA great Hakeem Olajuwon earlier this week and has been arriving at the gym at 7 a.m. to receive personal instruction on post moves.
“He just started teaching me how to create space between me and the defender,” Dieng said. “I’m adding tools to what I already have.”
When asked if Olajuwon was teaching Dieng his patented Dream Shake move, Dieng replied, “He taught me that, but I almost sprained my ankle.”
Comments like that show off Dieng’s personality, as did his response when I asked him about playing alongside other talented players on Team Africa.
“Your question should be, ‘Who’s going to run the point,’ ” he said, noting that the roster lacks natural point guards.
OK, any bright ideas?
“I will run the point,” he said with a laugh. “Point forward or point center, whatever you want to call it.”
That would be quite a sight to see. Mostly, though, it sounds like Dieng is content to pass along knowledge to younger players — “They just need to listen … and have good leadership and character,” he said — and enjoy being part of the first NBA game in Africa.
“It means a lot to me,” Dieng said. “It makes me happy that there are African players who have been so successful.”