Growth and Development
Senegal native develops into basketball standout
Ousseynou Diop knows a little about traveling. Actually, maybe we should rephrase that. The six-foot, 10-inch center for the Bellevue University men's basketball team might not appreciate that characterization.
Let's just say that Diop knows a little about growth and development. Diop literally outgrew his first sporting love, soccer, as he sprouted to his current height and battled to stay healthy on the pitch. Despite getting a relatively late start in basketball, he's developed his game on the court to become the starting center on the Bruins' nationally-ranked squad.
"I used to be all soccer. Until my sophomore year in high school, I played soccer varsity," Diop explained. "My junior year I just started being so tall, I got hurt all the time. I played basketball on outside playgrounds and stuff, but nothing really serious."
Diop was born in Senegal, but spent his youth in France before returning to Senegal when he was 16. When he began seeking a school in the United States to continue his education, a cousin led him to Bellevue University. He did not play basketball his first year, but walked on to the team in 2008.
He appeared in 23 games for the Bruins in the 2008-2009 season logging 136 minutes on the court. He averaged 2.2 points and 2.0 rebounds per game. While those are modest numbers, he did record 35 blocked shots that season, enough to lead the Midlands Collegiate Athletic Conference.
"There are certain things that are just kind of God given," said Bellevue University Head Coach Shane Paben. "He has unbelievable timing for blocked shots. He's very long. You can have height and still have terrible timing. His timing is unbelievable and he actually has a soft touch around the basket."
Diop's numbers have gone up each year. He improved to 6.6 points and 5.4 rebounds per game along with 67 blocks in 2009-2010. Those numbers went up to 8.5 points and 7.8 rebounds per game in the 2010-11 campaign. His 133 blocked shots led NAIA Division II and he was named the MCAC Defensive Player of the Year.
Through 10 games in the 2011-2012 season, Diop is averaging 8.6 points and 8.6 rebounds per game, while blocking 27 shots. The Bruins posted a 7-3 record in that time frame and were ranked ninth in the NAIA Division II National Poll.
"This year I've started out pretty good," Diop said. "My offensive game is not the best in the world, but we've got pretty good players. They don't really need me to score that many points."
After enduring narrow losses in the NAIA National Tournament the last few years including a 67-66 loss to Walsh in the semifinals in 2010, the Bruins again have their sights set on the top of the NAIA Tournament.
"That standard has been set for the last decade around here. We walk into the season saying 'how can we win a national title'?" Paben said. "We have a very tough schedule this year. We might take a loss here and there, but I think playing better competition you get a good gauge of where you're at. Hopefully, we'll get to the mountaintop and raise that banner."
The Bruins are a mix of local players from Bellevue and Omaha with others from across the United States including California, North Carolina, Texas and Mississippi. Diop is the only international player on the squad this season.
"I think the more diversity you can have on a team the better," Paben said. "You can tell coming from Dakar, Senegal, Osseynou Diop does really appreciate everything he gets around here. The guys see that and that the world is not just coming from America."
After spending time in Dakar and Paris, both with populations of over two million, Diop is enjoying the more wide-open spaces in the Omaha area with its population of around 865,000 in the metro.
"From (Paris and Dakar) to Omaha was a little different story," Diop said. "A smaller city, much more spaced out. I kind of like it though. I like being able to drive anywhere I go."
"I'm just thankful to be out here to be honest with you," Diop said. "If you told me five years ago, I'd be playing college basketball… I was blessed. Everything has just worked out right."
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