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UNLV gets commitment from 4-star local center from Ivory Coast

Updated October 4, 2023 - 7:16 pm

Pape N’Diaye, a shot-blocking, rim-running, four-star center for Trinity International School, announced via Instagram his commitment Tuesday to UNLV. He joins three-star California wing James Evans as the second member of coach Kevin Kruger’s 2024 recruiting class.

N’Diaye, who relocated in September 2022 from the Ivory Coast to Las Vegas, already left his biological family to play basketball in Las Vegas. Now he won’t yet leave the proverbial family he’s developed since arriving.

His commitment is nonbinding and unofficial until he signs a national letter of intent. The early signing period for prospective basketball players begins Nov. 8.

Standing 7 feet and ranked the No. 97 overall senior by 247 Sports, N’Diaye amassed more than a dozen scholarship offers this summer while starring on the club circuit for the Las Vegas Knicks.

He chose UNLV over Miami and San Diego State — among others — because of the “feeling between (Kruger) and me and all his staff. I feel comfortable with them. I feel like I’m their family.”

Adjusting to Las Vegas

Raised by his grandparents in the the Ivory Coast’s most populous city, Abidjan, N’Diaye began playing basketball three years ago at the urging of his grandfather. He emerged locally as a top prospect, catching the eye of Carlo Vieira, who as the general manager of the country’s national program encouraged N’Diaye to continue his development abroad — finding for him a host family in Las Vegas.

Following a tearful goodbye to his grandparents, nieces and nephews, N’Diaye departed the Ivory Coast last September with two days’ worth of clothes and his basketball shoes, packed in a black Wilson duffel bag.

A native French speaker without an understanding of English when he arrived stateside, he used translation apps on his cellphone to communicate — having since learned the language through diligent practice, mainly through DuoLingo.

N’Diaye first enrolled at Red Rock Academy, spending six months to settle into his surroundings and routine: skill development at 5:30 a.m., school, basketball practice then schoolwork — plus FaceTime calls to his family in the Ivory Coast on Saturdays or Sundays.

Said N’Diaye of when he first arrived: “I didn’t know anything about recruiting or the NCAA. Nothing.” But that would change in the spring and summer amidst his emergence nationally while playing the club season with the Knicks.

Competing on the Pro16/NXTPro circuit, N’Diaye proved a dominant rim protector with impeccable defensive instincts — deftly defending perimeter players in switches and running the floor in transition with fluidity more befitting of a wing.

He quickly became the top target for Kruger, who would camp on the sideline alongside his assistant coaches whenever they were permitted to watch N’Diaye play.

In recruiting N’Diaye they saw what Las Vegas Knicks program director Lamar Bigby saw: “He’s a team guy. High character. Does all the stuff you want a player to do to win. He wasn’t our leading scorer. He didn’t get a lot of touches. But every single night, he came out and blocked four shots and grabbed 10 rebounds.”

A thorough recruitment from UNLV featured frequent phone calls and text messages filled with the kind of candor that developed trust with N’Diaye, who visited the campus on an unofficial and official basis to solidify his commitment.

He’s comfortable not just with the city and the coaches at UNLV, but the teammates and coaches at the high-school level that have helped him ease his transition.

“I don’t want to leave my family because I left my family from Africa, I came back to Vegas, I added new family,” N’Diaye said. “I just spent one year with them to leave them in a new city, it’s kind of difficult. I don’t want to leave again.”

With his commitment behind him and the season ahead, N’Diaye says he wants to round out his skill-set offensively. He can knock down a jumper and finish in transition, profiling more on the elbow or on the perimeter than he would at the next level in the post.

As much as they rave about his upside, his coaches champion even more his work ethic and character. Among them is a shared belief he can develop into an NBA-caliber player.

“He works harder than any kid. He’s somewhat of a perfectionist. He wants to get everything correct,” said Trinity coach Greg Lockridge. “He has a passion and a love for the game that’s probably different than a lot of young kids playing today. A lot of these kids are playing for the fun of it. He’s playing for the future of it.’

Contact Sam Gordon at sgordon@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BySamGordon on X.

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