Six-foot-10, 260-pound Rawane Ndiaye averaged just 2.5 points per game for a junior college team that amassed 97.9 points per contest en route to a 26-4 record last season. He averaged just 7.4 minutes per game and appeared in only 13 of the team's 30 contests, thanks to a broken foot in preseason, an illness at midseason and a late-season suspension.
"His biggest challenge was that he broke a bone in his foot in October and was coming off the injury," Indian Hills Community College head man Barret Peery told InsideTennessee. "When he came back he did a much better job getting involved in what we do. He would've been much more in the swing of things if he hadn't gotten hurt."
Peery said Ndiaye, nicknamed "Pops," committed to Tennessee on Saturday night during a visit to the UT campus.
"He was very impressed with Coach (Cuonzo) Martin and Coach (Tracy) Webster," Peery said. "He was really comfortable with the guys and the place. Cuonzo and Tracy did a really good job."
Tennessee is desperate for help in the post, a position which could be seriously depleted in the coming weeks. Kenny Hall and Dwight Miller are out of eligibility, and fifth-year senior Jeronne Maymon is coming off a knee injury that caused him to miss the entire 2012-13 season. Moreover, Jarnell Stokes is considering the NBA Draft and fellow rising junior Yemi Makanjuola is believed to be mulling a transfer. That prompted Tennessee's coaches to pursue Ndiaye.
"I think the biggest reason they were recruiting him was it's hard to find size this time of year," Peery said. "Pops is a low-maintenance kid. He's not going to be a high-risk person within the program. Socially, he handles himself very well. He's a very popular person on campus."
Originally from Dakar, Senegal, Ndiaye moved to The Bronx and then Dallas, where he attended Woodrow Wilson High for two years. He spent his senior year at Body of Christ Academy in Raleigh, N.C. He signed a scholarship with Western Carolina in November of 2010 but wound up attending Indian Hills in Ottumwa, Iowa, instead.
After a decent freshman year at Indian Hills, Ndiaye was optimistic heading into the 2012-13 season. So was his coach, who was quoted on the school website as saying:
"Pops has grown so much in our program since he arrived at IHCC! He has worked very hard to get his body and his game ready for this season and I think he now understands what it takes. He has a good ability to score around the rim and rebound. He has also become a very good defender. If he continues to work and grow I expect very good things from him!"
That prediction did not pan out. Ndiaye broke his foot in October and missed the team's first 10 games. His first two appearances saw him score 5 points against Malcolm X Community College on Dec. 8 and a season-high 6 points against Independence on Dec. 9. He scored 4 points against Clinton CC on Dec. 15, 4 points against Mineral Area CC on Dec. 16, then produced 5 points and 11 rebounds against NIACC on Dec. 19.
After missing four games due to illness, he returned to play in eight games. His best outing during that stretch was a 6-point effort (2 field goals, 2-2 free throws) against Southeastern on Jan. 24. A fight broke out following a Feb. 18 rematch at Southeastern that saw Ndiaye and four fellow Warriors (yep, that's the team nickname) incur two-game suspensions.
Peery confirmed that Ndiaye has lost roughly 100 pounds since his early teens, adding: "He's really worked hard on his game, as well as his body. He's a good success story."
The coach went on to describe his player as "very Americanized. He speaks fantastic English."
Ndiaye made 14 of 32 field-goal attempts and 4 of 10 foul shots last season. As those stats suggest, he is not a polished player offensively.
"He's more of a defensive presence," Peery said, "but he can play pick and roll and finish around the rim. He can post up on the block.
"His defense is good. He's got a physicality to his game. He's a big body guy who can lean on post players, as well as be a big guy around the basket. He runs the floor very, very well for a guy his size."
Despite Ndiaye's modest junior college stats, Peery believes the young man will be an asset to Tennessee, on the court and off.
" I think he's a fantastic young kid that people will be excited about," the coach said. "He's a very good fit for Cuonzo."