Men's Basketball: Just Dou it: UL's Gueye dared to leave home in Senegal
Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, Feb. 3, 2020
He speaks five languages.
He left behind family in Africa to pursue a game that has taken him around the world.
He came close to playing at Maryland, and most recently was sought by the likes of Oklahoma State, St. John’s, East Carolina and several SEC schools.
But his latest stop instead has landed him at UL, and on Thursday he hit the game-winner — a turnaround 3-pointer that beat the buzzer, the No. 1 play on ESPN SportsCenter’s Top 10 list that night — in a 66-65 victory at Texas-Arlington.
He is Dou Gueye, and he is a content man these days, living what he calls “a good life.”
UL's Dou Gueye takes the ball to the basket in a win over Southeastern Louisiana earlier this season. (Photo: James Mays/Special to the Advertiser)
“I really enjoy being around here with my teammates and coaches,” Gueye said as he sat at the Cajundome one day last week.
What it took to come so far is a long tale of stops in one strange land after another, from home in Senegal to Japan to Florida and now Louisiana.
“I really admire what Dou Gueye is doing,” said Ragin’ Cajuns basketball operations director Mike Murphy, who spent some time playing professionally in New Zealand and Ireland when his own college days were done.
“It’s tough when you’re away from family and friends, especially when you’re struggling, or you … might want to see a smile from a friendly face, or just (need) a hug from a family member, (and) you can’t get that.
“You have teammates who care and love you,” Murphy added, “but it’s not the same as your family.”
Determination to chase the ultimate prize, however, prompted Gueye to pack up and say goodbye to his brothers, a mother who used to travel to France to bring back goods to sell at home and a father who serves in Senegal’s military.
Like nearly a dozen from Senegal before him have — Pape Sow, Mamadou N’Diaye, Gorgui Dieng, retired 12-season veteran DeSagana Diop and 7-foot-5 Tacko Fall among them — Gueye hopes to someday play in the NBA.
“Like a lot of people, like every basketball player wants to go to the league, that’s … one of the dreams,” he said. “So hopefully God can help me to go.”
'IT WAS REALLY HARD'
Gueye originally wanted to come to America to play much earlier than he did.
That plan was nixed by a higher authority.
“I had a chance to come over here,” Gueye said, “but my dad … didn’t want me to.”
So Dou — shortened from his given name of Doudou after he arrived at UL — wound up in Japan instead, for high school at Hachioji Academy and his first year of college.
“I was trying,” he said, “to get a good education and learn a different culture, and play basketball.”
In that order, as his father saw it.
Check, check, check — though not without some pain before the gain.
“It was really hard,” Gueye said of leaving Senegal, where he lived in the capital port city of Dakar, “because I didn’t know what I was gonna see over there (in Japan). I didn’t know a lot of things. (But) I decided to just go and see.”
Gueye accomplished what his father wanted him to there — especially on the court, having been named Japan’s Division I National Player of the Year after averaging a 28-point, 14-rebound double-double in his freshman season at Takushoku University — and it was time for the next move.
He was coming to America, and this time nobody was going to stop him.
“That’s on me,” said Gueye, now 22 years old, “because I was grown and I know what I wanted to do.
“Me and him (father Babacar), we talked about it, and he was like, ‘That’s your career, at the end of the day.’ So I decided to (come) here and learn basketball.”
OFF TO JUNIOR COLLEGE
Gueye, UL assistant coach Brock Morris said, initially signed with ACC-member Maryland.
But before he had a chance to leave Japan, Gueye learned he’d have to miss one season before being eligible to play for the Terrapins.
Although an excellent student, he had never taken the ACT or SAT; NCAA rules required that before he could suit up.
But Gueye had other ideas.
“I was real disappointed, because I thought when I was gonna get here I was gonna get a chance to play right away,” he said. “That’s what they told me.
“But after going through a lot of things, they say … I’ve got to sit out. And I didn’t really come here to sit out, so I’d rather go to a junior college.”
Enter Morris, head coach last season at Daytona State College.
Morris knew somebody who knew somebody who watched college games in Japan “and saw a guy that was 6-9, 235 pounds, with some guard skills, and was the national player of the year.”
One thing led to another, and before long Gueye was at a Florida juco instead of at Maryland.
“I told him, ‘At Daytona, you can play immediately, and then in a year you can Division I and still have two years to play,’” Morris said.
Additionally, Daytona State had another Senegal native — Khadim Sy — on the roster last season.
Gueye was convinced.
But upon arrival at the juco, he was rather raw.
Gueye didn’t start playing basketball until sometime around the sixth or seventh grade in Dakar. Like so many in his homeland, soccer was his sport of choice until then. But the super-competitive Gueye soon found he preferred the physicality of the hardcourt.
Even with all the time he spent playing basketball after leaving Senegal, however, his game still wasn’t up to NCAA DI standards.
“He needed to learn American conceptual basketball,” Morris said.
“In Japan, he was so much bigger that he could just use a power game. He could drive a certain direction all the time.
“I think in America, with the athletes that we have, the size that we have, he’s had to really learn the game,” Morris added. “We’re still in progress with that.”
Language, to some degree, has been another barrier.
Basketball lingo, that is.
Terminology isn’t always the same here as it is in Japan, and it certainly isn’t the same as in Senegal. Neither are all FIBA-style international rules compared to those of the American college game.
“When we say, ‘Hey, go space on the wing’ and run a certain type of action, we have to literally show him that action,” Morris said. “And then it takes awhile to process.
“So there’s also a lost-in-translation part to this.”
With time, though, comes progress.
“There is a learning curve, and he is going through that right now,” added Murphy, who sees a potential big jump for Gueye coming between his junior and senior seasons. “But you see moments of brilliance, and you see moments where he can really dominate a game.
“And he’s learning every day how to play this game at this level at this pace.”
'TALKING TOO FAST'
While a complete understanding of the playbook may be slow in coming, conversation comes quickly and seems to be no problem at all for the affable Gueye — no matter what country he’s in.
It’s tough to tell English actually is his fifth language.
The first is Wolof, native tongue of the Wolof people living in the West African countries of Senegal and Gambia.
He learned French as a youngster. Spanish too.
Gueye also speaks Japanese, but he didn’t learn it until going there around the age of 15, presenting some problems initially.
He was eagerly up the task of learning it, though, as frustrating as that also was on occasion.
“It was really, really, really fun,” said Gueye, who credits a private-school upbringing in Senegal for his multilingual prowess.
“I didn’t know what they (were saying), and sometimes they’d say something and laugh.”
That made Gueye nervous, and at times even mad, when he didn’t know if others were talking to him or not.
“But it wasn’t that hard to learn Japanese for me,” he said.
Ditto for English, which he didn’t even speak before getting to Daytona State College.
Yet he picked that up in only about three months.
The hardest part then?
“When I first got there, the regular conversation — I couldn’t catch none, because they were talking too fast,” Gueye said. “But as soon as I started listening, then I started understanding a lot better.”
Help came from Morris, a former UL basketball operations director who spent two seasons as an assistant at the College of Southern Idaho and three at fellow Sun Belt Conference-member South Florida before his year at Daytona State.
“Coach Brock was helping me,” Gueye said, “and a lot of people were helping me to go through it.”
THE MORRIS FACTOR
While they were at Daytona State with Morris, both Gueye and Sy thrived.
Sy — who began his college career at Virginia Tech — averaged 16.8 points and 9.8 rebounds per game, and is now playing regularly for Ole Miss.
But Gueye, who averaged 11 points and 7.4 rebounds at the junior college, couldn’t go to an SEC program because of another rule, according to Morris, this one a league requirement regarding juco transfers.
Maryland still was a possibility.
“Anyone at that size who moves the way he does, and then he shot 38 percent from 3 — he had a lot of options,” Morris said, “Maryland being one of them.”
Gueye, however, suggested he was no longer interested in the Terrapins, and he ultimately chose UL over Oklahoma State, which had legit interest, St. John’s and others.
“Dou had visited a couple high-major schools,” UL head coach Bob Marlin said, “and had a couple more lined up to visit.”
But various eligibility rules limited his options.
“So that knocked out a lot of people that wanted to recruit him,” Marlin said, “and it helped us.”
Also assisting was the fact that around the time Gueye committed, Morris joined Marlin’s UL staff. Another Cajun signee, Durey Cadwell, was coming from Daytona State too.
“Brock (was) a big part of it,” said Gueye, also his juco conference’s basketball Scholar-Athlete of the Year.
It wasn’t a package deal, either way, but familiar faces impacted Gueye’s decision-making, and so too did a trip to Lafayette.
“I think our relationship obviously helped,” Morris said.
“But I do believe he believed in Coach Marlin’s style, his program. He really enjoyed his visit when he came to the city. Then I think it also helped that Durey came, and he had a teammate that he would know.”
'DOU IS MY GUY'
Marlin, tipped off to Gueye long before the forward came to UL, liked what he saw right away.
“Coach Morris called me when they first got him,” Marlin said, “and said he had a chance to be a good player.”
Before the 2019-20 season began, Marlin figured Gueye could be UL’s top rebounder.
As it’s turned out so far, he is its No. 2 behind leading scorer and rebounder Jalen Johnson at 6.0 boards per game heading into Saturday’s visit to Texas State.
Gueye, a regular starter, also is 9-13 UL’s No. 4 active scorer at 9.1 points per game.
“He’s an extremely hard worker. … He can score. He can do a lot of things well,” Marlin said. “He doesn’t do anything great, except for rebound, in my opinion, and play defense.
“But offensively he has a midrange game. He’s got a 3-point game. He can score inside a little bit, but he’s not a back-to-the-basket player. And he’s an excellent perimeter defender at 6-8 or 6-9 that can really sit down and guard people like (ex-Cajun) Johnathan Stove could for us.”
He also apparently can knock down a big shot when given the chance, as evidenced by what happened Thursday at UTA, whichshould only further endear him to teammates already quite fond of him.
“Dou is my guy,” said big man Tirus Smith, a juco-transfer big man also in his first season at UL. “We’ve been rocking together since we got here.”
“Dou is a great guy, a great guy to be around,” Johnson added. “I don’t think there’s a ceiling on his game, how he plays. He rebounds. He hustles. Plays hard. He can score. And to cap it off he’s a great teammate.”
Morris knows he's devout in his faith as well.
When both were at Daytona State, the Cajuns assistant coach witnessed Gueye foregoing his pregame meal so he could instead hand off the food to a member of the local homeless community.
“He’s probably one of the nicest, genuine-hearted, loving young men,” Morris said. “He genuinely cares about his teammates. … I don’t think you would find a better teammate.”
That fact alone has helped ease the transition for someone both far from home and happy he dared to leave.
“We’ve got a good chemistry … and the coaches are taking care of us academically,” he said, “so I really like being around here.
“I feel really blessed, first of all, being around amazing guys. Thank God I’m here. That’s amazing.”
So too are the sacrifices he’s made, including the smiles left behind, to play at higher levels than he ever could without traveling the globe.
Not that Gueye would have it any other way.
“All worth it in the end,” he said. “Thanks God. All worth it in the end.”