The Last of Five Wizards Rookies
[Editor’s note: Ryan Gracia is majoring in sports communication and journalism at George Mason University and freelances for local sites of Patch.com. Some of his previous work for TAI can be found here, here and here.]
As my eyes wandered away from the court for a moment during Tuesday night’s game against the Milwaukee Bucks, a rarely-seen-before sight from my peripheral view quickly brought my attention back to the court. The Wizards’ 56th pick in the 2010 draft was headed to the scorer’s table, getting ready to make just his fifth appearance all season. That sight got me smiling and fist-pumping – and definitely would have unintentionally gotten me on the Verizon Center “Fist Pump Cam” if it were happening then.
It wasn’t just the sight of Hamady N’diaye finally getting a chance to prove his worth that got me excited. It was simply seeing him jog to check in. Let me repeat: He showed excitement to play the sport he loves and actually jogged to the scorer’s table. N’diaye and his enthusiasm didn’t look like the typical substitute hopelessly aiming to show his rares amidst an unknown opportunity. But maybe the change turned out to be exactly that – hopeless at first, yet impactful in a 5:28 stint.
Andray Blatche’s newest shoulder injury experienced three minutes into the Bucks game, depleting (depth-wise) an already-depleted (skill-wise) Wizards frontcourt, paved the way for N’diaye to be thrust under the bright lights of the house that Abe Pollin built. Flip Saunders was caught in quite a pickle with just Yi Jianlian and Hamady as the only big men hoping for their number to be called at that point in the game. And the Wizards coach made a great choice by choosing the gap-toothed man from Senegal, who hasn’t played for the Wizards since mid-December (with time spent in the D-League in between).
He was hungry to play. Just nine seconds into his appearance, Hamady had a block on a driving Brandon Jennings layup. On the stat sheet, however, Jennings was given the two points and N’diaye a goaltending call, but it was no goal-tend. It was a beautifully well-timed block, even on the replay. Sorry rook.
N’diaye understandably seemed anxious and nervous though. As the seconds ticked away at the end of the first quarter with John Wall sizing up Jennings near the Wizards’ bench, Hamady’s first instinct was to go set a screen for Wall, but Saunders waved him off. He looked like the typical player finally getting court time — a bit lost but hoping to make a good impression in his brief action. All five Wizards rookies (Wall, Kevin Seraphin, Trevor Booker, Jordan Crawford and the last drafted N’diaye) playing together was a rare sight, but they showed that collectively they could work hard and make their coaches proud of their work for change.
“We’ve all got each other’s back and it was a lot of fun to have everybody and we all trust each other out there,” N’diaye told the media. “It was probably one of the best moments that we had, the fact that all of the rookies were going hard and just wanted to go out there and play our hearts out and that’s exactly what we did.”
It’s safe to assume that by being one of the best moments “we” had, Hamady means “I.” But more importantly, he did play his heart out. That’s what you do when you stay positive, and N’Diaye always radiates positivity, something that surely factored into his scouting by the team.
His heart was shown just 22 seconds into the second quarter as he anchored a strong defensive possession. The Bucks were unable to move, smothered by each and every rookie Wizard on the floor until Carlos Delfino eventually passed the ball to a courtside fan with two seconds left on the shot clock, thinking a teammate was there. It was brilliant, rarely-seen defense from the Wizards – much less from the youngest Wizards. Their coach has been unable to find true consistency and leadership from his veteran players, and youth prevailed for a change.
“They played pretty well. I thought they competed and we had a pretty good stretch at that time. If you look at how we kept playing, I feel that we competed and did a lot of pretty good things,” Saunders said after the game.
On the very next defensive possession, Hamady put his body on the line, taking a strong stance defending in front of his basket to get the charge called on a bulldozing 255-pound Jon Brockman. That’s heart.
N’diaye played slightly more than five minutes, scored a single point from the free-throw line and bounced his way to the locker room at halftime, slapping high-fives with all fans whose hands were in his path. A few players behind, JaVale McGee – shoulders slumped, Gatorade towel draped over his head – walked the same path as N’diaye but with the body language of a player who had accepted the wrath of a constant losing environment that has become the current state Washington, D.C.’s pro basketball team.
Of course, I’m not making an appeal for Hamady to be a shoo-in for next year’s All-Star game (or even a significant uptick in playing time), but the guy did what he could in the time given, especially after watching nearly all the previous games in a suit and tie (and sometimes a pair of GQ-like glasses). It was nice to see the good guy finally “get the girl” — for a few minutes, at least.
It’s never easy being the last guy on a bench, but it could be even tought to stay ready and make the most of the opportunity when it finally does come. Did “H” work hard? Check. Did he have a positive impact? Check. Did he look like he enjoyed what he was doing? Check.
That’s all we as Wizards fans could ask for nowadays.
[Photos: Adam McGinnis, Truth About It.net]