Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The roundball life with Senegal forward Maurice NDour

This appears in the Monday, July 11, 2016 edition of the Business Mirror.

The roundball life with Senegal forward Maurice NDour
by rick olivares

Maurice NDour is an old man at 24 years of age.

The six-foot-nine forward of Senegal and formerly Real Madrid has lived in four countries and speaks four languages and if he penned a diary as he likes to say, would have enough stories to fill a book.

“All because of an orange roundball,” he laughs.

The initial dreams of glory for NDour was on the football pitch. And young Maurice played the game seriously. Played everywhere even until his feet hurt and when night was setting in. “Soccer,” he reminded, “is the national sport; the national passion. People can sit down all day and talk and debate football and still have more than enough for breakfast the following day and beyond.”

The detour to glory on the fields of Europe went through Asia where he was asked if he wanted to study and play basketball in Japan (Sanyo Gakuen University in Okayama). “I was playing in a tournament in Senegal and this scout was recruiting me. My mom was like, okay, “You want to play basketball? This is an opportunity.’”

“In Africa, because of our difficult situation, when there are opportunities like this, you take them. But Japan!” he laughs. “I said, ‘Do they play basketball in Japan? I thought they played baseball?’"

“It took me six months to get acclimated to Japan,” recalled NDour. “It was tough. It was my first time away from home. The basketball court was where felt comfortable. But even that did not come easy because of the language barrier. But I eventually learned the basics of the language.”

Two years later, he was on the move again. This time to the United States.

“I was excited because following the NBA in Senegal, I watched Allen Iverson, Shaquille O’Neal, and others. “I learned of Bill Russell. What Bill Russell has done for the Boston Celtics is incredible and because of that I followed the Celtics and I am still a Celtics fan."

From Japan, Maurice went to the United States for college where he matriculated first for tiny Monroe University and then for Ohio University. Ndour made a name for himself in the various leagues but when because of the wide pool in the United States, went undrafted in 2015.

“Playing in the United States put me a step closer to playing in the NBA,” said NDour. “But the reality check is — it is not that easy.”

NDour played for the New York Knicks and Dallas Mavericks in the 2015 Summer League but a foot injury hurt his chances of landing a roster slot. So he took his act to Spain and Real Madrid where his side won the Spanish Cup.

“Moving so many times has toughened me up. While for others, the goal is to play in the NBA, I will play anywhere. Of course, I will still give it a shot but if I never do, I will be fine with that as long as I give it a try."

While Senegal never got out of group play after losing to both Turkey and Canada, the Lions, as the Senegalese team is nicknamed, was lustily cheered on by local fans. “Thhat caught everybody on our side by surprise. I think Filipinos are hard workers too. If they see people grinding it out too then they appreciate that. I didn’t think that a team from Africa would be cheered by people in Asia. It is a good feeling.”

Even as Senegal huddle up at center court one last time for the FIBA OQT in Manila, the team parts with hope. “I think the sky is the limit for us. People are counting us out but we’ve competed,” enthused NDour. “This tournament, while we wanted to win, we knew we’d have a hard time. So it’s to get better. It’s to find out our identity. Our main goal is to win the Africa Cup (AfroBasket). Hopefully we can add a few pieces here and we will compete even better. After all we’ve got a very good coach who understands us and is able to bring out the best in us.”

Right now, Ndour hopes to try his luck in the NBA once more. “Even the D-League is a chance,” he said.  

“Fourteen years ago, I was a little kid playing football in the streets of Senegal. When you’re young you never think about what could happen. You have dreams but you played today and only thought about tomorrow’s game. That kind of changed when I picked up that orange roundball. I fell in love with basketball and I’ve not look back since." 

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