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Washington will look somewhat different on the hardwood this winter without Isaiah Thomas running the show, without Justin Holiday providing key shot blocks and defensive stops, and without Matthew Bryan-Amaning's presence inside the paint. Because of those things, UW Coach Lorenzo Romar will be looking for a great deal more from junior tri-captain Aziz N'Diaye.

The seven-foot post wasn't exactly enamored with the way last season finished.

"It seems like it was yesterday when we were playing North Carolina. But I have to let it go. This is a new season," said N'Diaye.

"As of right now, I've learned a lot from last season. I've worked hard on getting my body stronger and my legs better. My knee is much stronger this year. My body has more muscle now because of the weight lifting in the off-season," said N'Diaye of his off-season regimen that has him looking noticeably bulkier in the upper body particularly.

"It's going to be a long season so I need to be strong. I'm naturally pretty strong but our weight training coach has helped me, all summer long I lifted weights. My body feels great right now."

There were two areas that stood out in particular when watching open gym this summer. His footwork has improved a great deal and it looks as though he is beginning to develop softer hands. Of his footwork, N'Diaye says, "My legs are feeling better. That's a big part of it. Last year was hard coming off of an ACL injury and having to wear a brace. I had to get my confidence back. I know I'm fine now."

Of his softer hands, Aziz is a bit more humble.

"Thank you, man. Thanks (for noticing). I have worked on my offense all summer. I've been working on what my weaknesses were. That's what you have to do," he said.

Aziz has been a constant fixture in Seattle, as it has now been two years since he's been back home to Africa.

"That's hard. I wasn't able to go home because I took classes all summer. So these guys, my teammates, are my family. They helped me from being too homesick. But everybody back home is doing well. I've been in touch. They are fine."

N'Diaye enjoys having another big guy on the roster, incoming freshman Shawn Kemp, Jr. "He's been really good so far," N'Diaye said of Kemp. "I've really seen him improve the last couple of months. I think he's going to do great. He has the body type that will serve him well, and he will help me out during the season. Going against his body type in practice every day is going to really improve me."

Of incoming freshman point guard Tony Wroten, Jr., N'Diaye smiles and says, "You have to always be ready for him. He hits you with passes when you aren't expecting it. I have been trying to play with him as much as I can to get used to his game. He plays very fast."

So what is it that Aziz looks most forward to for this season? "I'm just excited that everybody is back and healthy," he said. "We missed Abdul (Gaddy) last year, getting him back is going to be big. We'll have a great year as a team."

As for good friend Isaiah Thomas, N'Diaye says, "We miss him, but he has been there at open gym. He's from here, so he'll always be around."

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