Mamadou Ndiaye stands head and shoulders — sometimes a foot, even half a torso — above most players on the court. Literally.
In two weeks, the 7-foot-5 junior — believed to be the tallest high school player in the country — could be standing tall at center court with his Brethren Christian teammates.
Brethren Christian, which last week captured its fourth straight Academy League championship in boys' basketball, is in the CIF Southern Section Division 5AA playoffs this week. The Warriors, who were 10-0 in league and 22-5 overall, are ranked seventh in the division. They took on Animo Leadership of Inglewood on Wednesday, but the score wasn't available at press time. Should the Warriors beat Animo, they'll play a second-round game at 7 p.m. Friday.
Much of the Warriors' success this season can be attributed to Ndiaye.
Thanks to his massive frame, the opposition has to work around Ndiaye wherever he is on the floor. In a league game against Crean Lutheran of Irvine on Jan. 31 — a 65-38 BC victory — six of Ndiaye's 20 points came on dunks, and he even hit a three-pointer. He also corralled 19 rebounds — some of themflat-footed, others by volleying the ball to himself over the head and futile reach of an exasperated defender — and blocked five shots.
"His presence really changes the whole game...he really does," Crean Lutheran Coach Dan Fink said after his Saints faced and lost for a second time this season to the Warriors. "We have a few guys who are big, but he (Ndiaye) just alters the game. That gives their defenders the opportunity to cover our guards and sag on our guys. He really has a huge outcome on the game."
Ndiaye is in his first year at Brethren Christian. BC Coach Jon Bahnsen said Ndiaye, who was born in the West African country of Senegal, transferred to Brethren Christian from Stoneridge Prep in Simi Valley last year at second semester. He lives with his guardians in Huntington Beach, and his guardians have not granted media requests to talk with the 18-year-old, Bahnsen said.
"They want him to have as much 'normalcy' as possible," Bahnsen said.
Ndiaye has let his game speak for itself. For the season, he is averaging 23.3 points, 13.7 rebounds and five blocks a game. His highs in any single game this year have been 40 points, 24 rebounds and 15 blocks.
"Mamadou's addition to the team has given us an offensive weapon that really can't be matched in high school basketball," Bahnsen said. "If he establishes position in the post, then he is virtually impossible to stop.
"It was a challenge at first, getting all of our players adjusted to playing with such a big body inside. But as the season has progressed, they have learned how to react to many defenses which teams have thrown at us. They have also learned how to occupy defenses so our opponents can't just focus on Mamadou. Besides being such an overpowering offensive threat, Mamadou also gives us a defensive dimension in altering, blocking and forcing bad shots."
He also can draw "oohs" and "ahhs" from the crowd.
During the Crean Lutheran game, both of his reverse dunks drew roars from the BC fans, and a few took to their feet and cheered when he nailed a long-range three-point shot in the third quarter. He played just a little more than three quarters in the win.
"Mamadou is liked and loved by all students and staff on our campus," Bahnsen said. "This is because he has such a warm and fun-loving spirit. He has been a welcome addition to life on our campus."
In addition to Brethren Christian, five other local boys' basketball teams qualified for the CIF Southern Section playoffs. Below is a preview of their opening matchups.
Fountain Valley (17-8) at Upland (21-9), 7 p.m. Friday: The Barons take to the road for their playoff opener and go up against an Upland team that is ranked 12th in the division.
Fountain Valley (17-8) tied with Edison and Huntington Beach for second place behind Los Alamitos in the Sunset League standings. The Barons ended league play Feb. 9 by turning in a solid defensive effort in the second half at Newport Harbor to come away with a 50-38 victory. Senior guard Sean Myers led the second-half surge and finished with 21 points and five rebounds.
"Our program has continued the rise we are working for by finishing second in league," said second-year Coach Roger Holmes who is taking the Barons to the postseason for a second straight year. Fountain Valley had finished in last place in the league standings three of the previous four years prior to last year's fourth-place finish.
"Our guys have made the commitment to do everything they can to re-establish the Baron traditions of old," Holmes said.
Upland finished second in the Baseline League. The Highlanders (21-9) closed out their regular season winning seven of their final 10 games. Two of the three losses came to third-ranked Etiwanda and No. 15 Los Alamitos.
Rialto (12-13) at Edison (19-7), 7 p.m. Friday: The Chargers face a Rialto team that finished fourth in the San Andreas League and received an at-large bid to the playoffs.
Eighth-ranked Edison ended league play Feb. 9 and lost, 59-48, to league-champ Los Alamitos. The Chargers may have lost the game, but one team member won the night. With senior guards Dreon Butler and Corey Foster scoring 16 and 10 points, respectively, to lead the way, it was a big basket by Scott Daniels, a senior who has served as the team's manager for the past four years, that took top honors.
Chargers Coach Rich Boyce said that Daniels, who played in his first game and scored three points, was born with Velo Cardio Facial Syndrome (VCFS) and had his third open heart surgery in September to replace a valve.
"He is a kid who is full of joy and brightens up any room he is in,' Boyce said. "Both Los Al and Edison fans were standing and cheering, many with tears in their eyes. Just a wonderful moment."
Huntington Beach (15-12) at Katella (15-12), 7 p.m. Friday: Despite being the No. 12-seed in the playoffs and tying for second place in the Sunset League, Huntington is in the playoffs as an at-large entry and is on the road for its first-round game.
The Oilers ended regular season play Feb. 9 with a 58-41 win at Marina. Senior guard Rory Aldana had 13 points and senior guard Blake Skorich and junior guard Andrew Tenbrink both scored 10 points.
Katella (13-9) is unranked. The Knights finished second in the Orange League.
"Katella is a well-coached team and we will have a good challenge this Friday playing at their house," Huntington Coach Fabian Luna said. "We're excited about the opportunity and hope to perform well."
Marina (9-17) at Capistrano Valley (22-4), 7 p.m. Friday: The Vikings received an at-large playoff bid and travel to face a Capo Valley team that is the division's No. 2-seed.
Marina ended Sunset League play Feb. 9 with a 58-41 loss to Huntington Beach. Senior guard JJ James scored a game-high 22 points.
Capo Valley lost out on an undisputed South Coast League title and settled for a first-place tie with Mission Viejo, the top-ranked team in the division, when it lost to the Diablos in its regular-season finale Feb. 9. The Cougars are led by senior guards Aleks Lipovic (13.9 ppg.) and Nick Thomas (12.5 ppg.).
Redondo Union (10-16) at Ocean View (23-3), 7 p.m. Friday: It's a battle of Seahawks as Ocean View begins its quest for the Division 2AA title against Redondo Union. Ocean View's Seahawks carry a 17-game win streak and the division's top seed into the first-round meeting.
Ocean View capped a 10-0 run in the Golden West League on Feb. 9 by pulling away from host Segerstrom, 75-51. Senior guard/forward Cristian Rivera had 18 points and 11 rebounds, senior center Conor Clifford scored 12 points and sophomore guard Dillon Reise came off the bench and hit a pair of key three-point shots in the fourth quarter that took the Seahawks from a six-point lead into a 12-point advantage.
Redondo Union is led by junior guard Derek Biale and sophomore guard Ian Fox. The Seahawks were just 2-8 in Bay League play, but Ocean View co-Coach Tim Walsh isn't taking them lightly.
"Redondo Union is a good basketball team that has played one of the most difficult schedules in our division," Walsh said. "They are well-coached and they have some guys who can shoot from distance. This team knocked off Edison this year and gave Encino Crespi, ranked No. 13 in the L.A. Times Southern Section rankings, all they could handle. Based upon what we know about them, we were a little bit surprised to be playing them in the first round."