Although many were quick to praise Russ Smith for his fantastic numbers on Saturday, Gorgui Dieng's play should not be overlooked. After almost 40 straight minutes of play, Dieng tallied 14 points, 14 rebounds, and six blocked shots. While his performance was spotty early, Gorgui perservered, having one of his best games of the season. His future development will be integral to the overall success of this Louisville basketball team. The season is young, yet there is one thing for certain: Dieng has proven his worth as a pivotal player for Pitino's team.
1. Gorgui's Recruitment.
In July of 2009, many Louisville fans were hoping for a commitment from Fab Melo, a 7-footer originally out of Brazil. Although it was said that Pitino was the first to discover the alleged blue chip prospect, Melo ended up opting to play for Jim Boeheim and spurn a Cardinal program that many believed had been his leader in the days leading up to his commitment.
After a number of mishaps with the 2010 recruiting class, Pitino began pursuing Justin Coleman, a top wing player out of Huntington Prep in West Virginia. Coleman became a top target, but Pitino soon took notice of Dieng, a 6'11'' center recently discovered by Prep's Rob Fulford. While the words "project" and "potential" were often accompanied when Dieng's name was mentioned, Pitino loved Dieng's length and his noticeable impact on the defensive side of the ball. Other teams quickly became involved in the Spring of 2010, including John Calipari and Kentucky, but Gorgui eventually gave Pitino the nod, a commitment which proved to be key following the sudden and unexpected departure of Samardo Samuels.
2. Gorgui's Development.
Dieng got off to a late start in the fall of 2010, as the NCAA initially ruled him ineligible, but later granted Louisville's appeal. The freshman was set to back up Terrence Jennings, and in 15 minutes of play per night averaged a little over five points, four rebounds, and one blocked shot. Pitino was often complimentary of his new center, but was quick to remind the fanbase that Gorgui would need to add a substantial amount of weight in order to be effective.
3. Dieng's Promising Start in 2011-12.
With the start of the 2011-12 campaign, many experts, including Doug Gottlieb, lamented Louisville's loss of Terrence Jennings, predicting that Louisville's frontline would be drastically weakened with TJ gone. Those who actually watched Louisville basketball, however, were very much aware of the fact that Jennings' departure was accelerated in part because of Gorgui's likely ascension to the starting lineup. After getting a look at "Beach Gorgui" in the Bahamas, in which the thirty to forty pounds Dieng was said to have gained was readily apparent, Louisville's supposed front court problem became an obvious misdiagnosis.
Dieng's reputation as an integral part of Louisville's basketball team has only been enhanced by his play early in the season. In ten games, Gorgui is averaging 10.3 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 2.7 blocks per game. In four of those games, including the last three, Dieng has notched a double-double and he has recorded at least one blocked shot in all but one of Louisville's ten contests.
When compared to others that may have suited up for Pitino, Dieng's impact becomes all the more noticeable. Fab Melo, an alleged 5 star recruit, is averaging 6.5 points and 5.1 rebounds in twenty-two minutes of play this season. Jennings, a once heralded five star recruit out of California, averaged 9.6 points and 5.6 rebounds as Louisville's starting center last year. The season is young and Big East play is yet to begin, but Dieng is certainly earning his keep as Louisville's starting center.
4. Gorgui's Attitude: Louisville First.
Gorgui's recent press conference should do nothing but make any cardinal fan proud of the fact he wears a Louisville uniform. When asked about his recent string of double doubles, Gorgui stated "can you ask me a question about the team?" When questioned about Louisville's position in the polls, Gorgui said "the most important game is the game we have tomorrow."
What was most telling was the dialogue that led to Dieng's discussion about the team and his future in the program. "I'm just focusing about Louisville. I'm not hurting for anything, my parents have been blessed. I love school and basketball . . . I feel lucky."
Although there may have been a number of obstacles and mishaps along the way, Gorgui Dieng's Louisville journey thus far has been an extreme blessing for all of Card Nation.