The Incredible Journey of Gorgui Dieng


Apr 8, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Louisville Cardinals center Gorgui Dieng (10) puts up a shot over Michigan Wolverines forward Mitch McGary (4) during the second half of the championship game in the 2013 NCAA mens Final Four at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

With just over four minutes left to play in the 2013 National Title game, The University of Louisville was in the midst of one of the greatest battles for the Division I championship to ever take place. With just a few offensive possessions left in the game, the ball was caught in the lane by Gorgui Dieng. Once rated as low as a two star recruit in 2009, Dieng knew exactly what to do. In one swift movement, he looked off hot handed Luke Hancock- who was drifting into the corner for an open three- dribbled to his left with his back to defender Mitch McGary, jumped off one foot, and hooked a shot towards the basket over his head- Nothing but net.
By now, nobody in the country was the least bit surprised by Dieng’s prowess in the offensive post. Nor were they surprised three minutes earlier when he buried a jumper from just inside the 3 point arc. But it was not long ago when it would have been a revelation to see Gorgui Dieng make an offensive difference at all.
It was just 2009 when Dieng made the journey from his native Kebemer, Senegal to the United States to play at Huntington Prep in West Virginia. He came to America with the ability to speak four languages fluidly but hardly knew any English at all. When Rick Pitino took a chance and gave Dieng a scholarship offer, the only other school to offer him at that point was Marshall. Dieng first stepped foot on Louisville’s campus a frail 6’ 11”, 180-lb, non- English speaker with not even a year of American basketball experience under his belt.
For a while, it didn’t even look like Dieng was going to get to play during his freshman season. There were some compliance issues that would have forced Dieng to sit out but, just six days before Louisville’s first exhibition of the 2010-11 season, he was cleared to play. He made tremendous strides throughout his first season all without even fully grasping many of the concepts of basketball that may seem simple to those already familiar with the game.
Starting out, Dieng lacked any offensive post moves, had poor ball handling and passing skills, and was at best an average shooter. On the defensive end, he was a fantastic shot blocker but was a liability at times due simply to his lack of basketball knowledge.
In a game against Florida International, Dieng was beside himself when he had learned that he had fouled out. He swore up and down to Pitino that he only had three fouls until the coach explained to him that offensive fouls do in fact count towards your foul total.
After a season ending loss to Morehead State in the first round of the NCAA tournament, Dieng was perplexed as to why everyone was so down on themselves. He didn’t realize that the season was now over.
Its stories like that which make Gorgui Dieng’s journey all the more remarkable.
Fast forwarding now to 24 months after the loss to Morehead State, Dieng was possibly the most complete player to set foot on the court for Louisville this season. Since the end of the 2010-11 season, Dieng has transformed his game almost as quickly as his body. Gaining over 50 pounds since his arrival in Louisville has helped him tremendously improve on both sides of the ball. Dieng has the whole package on offense with a variety of post moves to go along with his much improved mid-range jumper. Not only this but Dieng can work as a facilitator and has improved tremendously as a passer. Defensively, he holds the Louisville single-season record for shots blocked and has spent the last two seasons holding down the front court for the best defense in the country.
Dieng started every game in the 2011-12 season, averaging 33 minutes a game. He missed seven games this past season but still averaged 31 minutes per game while putting up near double-double numbers all season long.
Still, Dieng wasn’t really impressed with himself. Where he really takes pride is in the classroom. He sustained a near perfect GPA while in college and graduated in just three years with his communications degree- not too bad for a guy that couldn’t speak a lick of English just a few years ago.
Two years is all it took for Gorgui Dieng to go from unheard of 2-star prospect to starter for a final four team, three years is all it took for him to go from a home town of 20,000 people to playing in a Final Four in front of 75,000, and four years is how long it took him to go from a kid who simply dreamed of a professional basketball career to possible NBA lottery pick.
As he moves on to the NBA and beyond, it’s hard to fathom what Dieng could achieve. But, if the past four years are any indication, the sky is the limit.