Restless times for UH's Gueye
By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Dayton Morinaga
The following takes place between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m.
Ahmet Gueye can't sleep.
He's thinking about ways he can help the University of Hawai'i men's basketball team win more games. His right knee hurts. He misses his family in Dakar, Senegal.
Just like on his favorite television show — 24 — every day is an adventure for Gueye.
"It's like I'm having my own countdown," he said. "It's getting more emotional for me every day, thinking that it's going to be over for me soon. I don't want it to end."
Gueye is in his stretch run of games as a Rainbow Warrior. Hawai'i will host Utah State in a Western Athletic Conference game on Monday.
As he has done all season, Gueye will literally strap on his knee brace, and then figuratively strap the rest of the 'Bows on his back.
"He is a true warrior," Hawai'i head coach Riley Wallace said. "To play the way he has with that knee (injury) and never complain, it says a lot about the kind of person he is. Ahmet really has carried a big load for us this year. There were a lot of games where he was the only inside presence we had."
Gueye is a 6-foot-8, 235-pound senior center. He is averaging 12.3 points and a team-high 8.4 rebounds per game.
When his Hawai'i career is done, he will leave as one of the program's top shot-blockers and rebounders.
"He has those long arms and he positions himself well around the basket," said associate coach Bob Nash, who works with the Hawai'i post players. "And he has an uncanny timing for going after loose balls. He has that natural instinct."
And yet, Gueye is still learning the game.
He grew up in Senegal, which is a country in west Africa, playing soccer. He did not start playing basketball until he was 13.
"It's not a big sport where I come from; not as big as soccer," said Gueye, 24. "I knew I had to come to America to get better."
Through the help of an uncle, Gueye enrolled at Salt Lake Community College (Utah) in 2003. He arrived there with virtually no grasp of the English language.
But just like with basketball, Gueye proved to be a quick study.
"I had no idea what I was doing," he said. "But I asked a lot of questions. I took (English) classes. I had a tutor. I always had my dictionary by my side."
Now, just four years later, Gueye is fluent in three languages — English, French and Wolof.
He is on target to graduate in 2008 with a degree in French, although he may put that on hold to try and play professional basketball after this season.
"I don't know if I'll get the opportunity to play basketball overseas, so if that doesn't work out, I want to be a translator," he said.
Gueye doesn't have much time to dream. He usually sleeps between three and five hours a night.
"I'll go to bed and he's up, then I wake up and he's still up," said teammate Todd Follmer, who is Gueye's roommate on the road. "And he always has energy. It's amazing. It's like he's a machine."
But he's not. A blown-out knee proved that last March.
After Gueye tore two ligaments in his right knee during a practice late last season, he spent the entire summer in rehabilitation.
It cost him a trip home and a roster spot on Senegal's national team.
"It was just one of those things that happens," he said. "I had the surgery here, so I had to stay here and get better."
The knee is still not fully-healed. He still needs daily treatment from the UH training staff. He needs to take an occasional day off from practice just to prevent it from swelling.
"His first year here, he showed glimpses of what a great athlete he was," Nash said. "He could run, jump, throw down the most vicious dunk ... but then the injury happened and he seemed to be a little tentative about exploding to the basket. He's had to learn how to play with the injury."
Still, Gueye wouldn't want it any other way. Yes, redshirting was an option.
"A lot of people told me that I should redshirt, and wait to get better," Gueye said. "But I knew the team needed me this year. I made the decision, and I have no regrets. My knee hurts every day, but when I think about what the coaches and my teammates have done for me, it's worth it."
His knee is slowly getting better, and it is reflected in his statistics. Over his last six games, Gueye is averaging 14.7 points and 10.5 rebounds per game.
"Points is not a big thing to me; we have a lot of other weapons on this team," he said. "I think the team needs me more to rebound and play defense."
Even with his injured knee, Gueye is one of the strongest players on the team. Follmer found out the hard way.
"I tried to wrestle with him a couple times on the road," said Follmer, who is 7 feet and 225 pounds. "He tosses me around. When he gets me down, I can't move."
But Gueye is not exactly a bully. His parents didn't raise him that way.
As Wallace put it: "Ahmet is a perfect gentleman."
Gueye said: "The thing I miss most about home is my family. I haven't been home in four years."
On the nights when he can't sleep, Gueye will hook up a Webcam to his computer and chat with his parents, two brothers and sister.
"We're a really close family," he said. "My mom is the one who always worries about me being so far away, but they all know that I'm blessed to be here.
"If I didn't play basketball, I wouldn't have all these opportunities. That's why I try to enjoy every day I'm here. When I think about that, I don't care about my knee, I don't care about anything else. I just want to keep playing and do what I can to make this a special year for the team."
Reach Dayton Morinaga at firstname.lastname@example.org.