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Originally published October 21, 2010 at 5:38 PM | Page modified October 21, 2010 at 11:50 PM

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Huskies' 7-footer Aziz N'Diaye offers a new cog in talented roster

Newcomer Aziz N'Diaye is learning how to work with Washington's guard-rich basketball club and offers hope at NCAA tournament success.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Every basketball coach says he wants a traditional back-to-the-basket big man, but few know what to do when they have someone like Washington newcomer Aziz N'Diaye.

The 7-foot center, who barely has an ounce of fat on a chiseled 260-pound frame, doesn't look like most post players.

And N'Diaye, who completed UW's mile test in 5 minutes 21 seconds, doesn't run like other big men.

After a few practices, N'Diaye has impressed the Huskies with an array of defensive gifts that hasn't been seen around Montlake in many years. He appears to be a shot-blocking savant with an obsession for rebounding.

"We haven't had one that has had the defensive presence that way," coach Lorenzo Romar said.

UW has produced talented post players including Spencer Hawes and Jon Brockman, a pair of NBA products, but N'Diaye is different.

"We've played the way we play and have gotten away with it without having one of the key components in making our system work," Romar said. "But now we have someone that is back there that is pretty imposing down there.

"That just helps our defense. So we don't have to do anything new — like now, all of a sudden we can play the way we wanted to play — it just helps it be more effective in how we've already been playing."

Still Romar must figure out how to maintain a high-octane attack that led the Pac-10 in scoring last season, averaging 79.2 points per game, while integrating N'Diaye into the system.

It can be a tricky proposition.

During the one season with Hawes in 2006-07, he led the team in scoring but the offense stalled at times. Washington averaged 76.5 points — the third lowest points per game for a Romar-coached team at UW.

Romar downplayed concern N'Diaye will slow down UW's up-tempo style.

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"That question comes up," he said. "We get two sides: When are you going to get a big man? And we get one. So does that fit your style? It compliments our style."

N'Diaye, a junior college transfer from the College of Southern Idaho by way of Senegal, is aware of the concern about whether he'll have a role on this guard-oriented team that appears to have more perimeter shooters than recent years.

"A lot of people don't realize how to use a big (man) and stuff like that," he said. "The guards, sometimes they throw you some pass expecting you to catch it, but you have no chance. So that's something you go through and you practice.

" ... By the end of the year, we're going to get better as a team. I'm going to get better."

N'Diaye is a possible candidate for the starting lineup but Romar can't afford for him to make a slow transition to Division I basketball.

It can be argued Washington didn't recruit N'Diaye for the nonconference games and the Pac-10 schedule. If the Huskies live up to preseason predictions, they'll need N'Diaye to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament.

"Every time we've gone to the Sweet 16, that (opposing) team looks the same," Romar said. "They have different jerseys, but the makeup of that team looks the same — they have size.

"Aziz is the guy that, when we play those type teams, he's someone that hopefully can neutralize their big guys that way."

N'Diaye is recovering from ACL surgery on his left knee, which forced him to sit out last year at CSI. He said the knee is 100 percent healed, but admits he's still adjusting to UW's system.

"I'm learning more about myself, just being on the court and playing against good players," N'Diaye said. "I have to understand everybody's game.

"It's just something we have to build on as a team. And I've just had one week or a half a week of practice, so we have time to build that. I'm pretty positive we're going to be better."

Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or pallen@seattletimes.com

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