About 20 or 30 minutes have passed since Saturday practice has ended. A handful of players remain on the two courts, occupying all four baskets inside the Sacramento Kings’ practice facility.
One of those players is Hamady Ndiaye, a preseason roster invite. In his limited time as a King, the 25-year-old, 7-foot tall big man has been quite impressed by the basketball environment in Sacramento.
“I think being here opened my eyes in a whole different way of the game,” Ndiaye said last week after his post-practice workout session with fellow bigs and assistant coach Clifford Ray. “I did work out with the guys. I practiced a lot and everything, but the feeling I’m getting here – the camaraderie – the coaches and everyone is open to helping.”
The Rutgers alum began his career with the Washington Wizards, playing two seasons in the nation’s capital. He appeared in just 19 games and played a total of 83 minutes as a member of the franchise formerly known as the Bullets.
He looks back fondly at his experience with the Wizards. But in the few weeks he’s spent with the Kings, he’s noticed a different kind of culture – one that focuses on a personal approach with its talent.
“I feel as (if) every single coach on this staff is hands on,” Ndiaye said. “Whenever I walk up to somebody and I’m like, ‘What did I just do wrong?’, they’ll exactly tell me what I did and how to fix it.”
Ndiaye has experienced a number of teaching moments during his time with the Kings, none more memorable than his first practice in training camp at Colorado Springs. As part of his new defensive grading system, Keith Smart passed out report cards to his players and Ndiaye, widely-regarded as a solid defender, received the worst grade out of his 18 teammates.
Shocked and stunned, Ndiaye could’ve pouted or remained silent. But instead, the big man did what every player eagerly looking to improve should do – he approached coaches for feedback and they obliged.
“They corrected everything to the point where my score got so much higher the next day,” Ndiaye said. “And then the next day and the next day. It’s, to me, the best improvement I kind of made in a couple of days. They would just work with me and got me to understand certain things that I didn’t do before – and it’s just a great feeling.”
The improvement was necessary considering the Kings’ depth at power forward and center. On a daily basis, Ndiaye is facing the likes of DeMarcus Cousins, Chuck Hayes, Jason Thompson and Thomas Robinson – four very different big men who pose very different kinds of challenges on both ends of the floor.
But what doesn’t vary between that eclectic mix of talent is how they are approaching this upcoming season. Ndiaye has seen good work ethic on display in every workout session.
“It’s like there’s a bunch of me’s around,” Ndiaye said of his teammates’ desires to practice hard every day. “And it’s good to work with guys that kind of have the same mentality.
“And everybody goes hard at practice – really hard,” he added. “And I love it. It’s all you can ask as a basketball player.”
What Ndiaye describes is the atmosphere Keith Smart has been working to establish since becoming head coach in January. Will the change in culture lead to more wins this year? Nobody knows. But from the eyes of a player who spent two formative seasons of his career on a rebuilding team, the Kings seem headed in a positive direction.