RAINBOW WARRIOR BASKETBALL
FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Ahmet Gueye leads the Western Athletic Conference in blocks and is UH's leading rebounder and second-leading scorer.
Gueye gives Hawaii a defensive force around the basket
Approachable and courteous away from the gym, Ahmet Gueye doesn't take kindly to folks venturing into his vicinity on the basketball court.
That's when the usually affable forward can turn downright rude, enjoying nothing more than sending a visitor to the lane away in disappointment.
"Oh, that's a great feeling, just a great feeling," Gueye says of swatting away an attempted shot at the basket. "When I get the first one, I just want more."
HAWAII VS. UNLV
When: Today, 7:05 p.m.
Where: Stan Sheriff Center
TV: Live, KFVE (Ch. 5)
Radio: Live, KKEA 1420-AM
Tickets: $25 (lower-single seats only), $20 (upper level-adult), $5 (upper-students), $3 (upper-UH students), $5 (Super Rooter/Manoa Maniacs)
Promotions: "Green and White night." Fans sitting in sections behind the team benches are encouraged to wear green. Those opposite the benches are asked to wear white.
It's not a skill he honed through hours of study or practice. In fact he's not exactly sure how it developed. But his shot-blocking prowess has made Gueye a popular figure just three games into his career with the Hawaii basketball team.
Gueye enters UH's game against UNLV tonight at the Stan Sheriff Center with eight blocks, good for first in the Western Athletic Conference. He's coming off a five-block performance in UH's lopsided win over Saint Louis on Nov. 26, the most for a UH player since 2001.
He also ranks second on the team in scoring (14.7 points per game) and is first in rebounds (6.7 per game), but the 6-foot-7, 225-pound junior takes particular pride in protecting the basket, relying on timing, quickness and instinct to block or alter shots.
"I don't work on it, honestly," Gueye said. "I've been watching those big-time players, (Dikembe) Mutombo, Ben Wallace, and kind of learn from them. But I never work on it."
"He likes to play defense," UH coach Riley Wallace said. "He's not afraid to be physical. They knock him down, he gets back up and comes at them again. He's got a great attitude for the game.
"He's fun to watch because it's all quick timing and unexpected because it's usually against bigger guys."
Gueye derives motivation from various sources -- a love for the game he picked up as a 13-year-old in Senegal, a desire to meet his own expectations,
and the sound that reverberates through the Sheriff Center when he gets his hand on a shot.
"You have to do it for (the fans)," Gueye said. "Every time we block a shot they get more in the game."
Gueye was more adept at using his feet than his hands as a child, playing soccer while growing up in Dakar, Senegal.
It wasn't until his early teens that he started playing basketball and his introduction to the game coincided with a growth spurt.
His uncle, Amadou Galo, organizes basketball camps in Senegal and recognized Gueye's potential in the game. He encouraged Gueye to pursue the sport in college and helped him find his way to Salt Lake Community College.
A long way from home and still raw on the court, Gueye found guidance from SLCC coaches Norm Parrish and Michael Ostlund.
"When I came to Salt Lake I was really lost," Gueye said. "I didn't know what I was doing and what kind of player I was going to be, and they put that confidence in me. Sometimes I'd have a hard day, but they still believed in me and kept coaching me.
"I don't know how to thank them enough. When I'm on the court, I'll always think about that."
SLCC previously sent forwards Troy Ostler and Jeff Blackett to UH, and the program's history with Hawaii proved beneficial for Gueye and the Rainbow Warriors.
He was recruited by Utah, Brigham Young, Utah State and Boise State, but made up his mind when he arrived for his official visit to UH.
"It's just like back home," he said. "The first time when I got here, I just knew this is the place I was going to go, no hesitation."
His addition to the UH roster not only gave the 'Bows a boost on the defensive end, but prompted Wallace to turn up the pace of the UH offense as well.
Gueye's ability to run the floor was a factor in Wallace's decision to loosen the reins on the running game this season.
"(Center Chris) Botez already ran and with (Gueye) being a sprinter, we needed to speed up our game a little," Wallace said.
"If our big men can outrun their big men and they have to help (defensively), there's going to be an open guy in your transition. ... But your team has to be like this team, where they're unselfish and they find that guy."
Although he's still figuring out UH's halfcourt sets, the transition game has helped Gueye score in double figures in all three contests this season, shooting 77 percent (20-for-26) from the field. Gueye said he's been surprised with the fast start to his Division I career, which also serves as motivation for the rest of the season.
"Now I have high expectations of myself, so I have to push myself to get better and meet people's expectations," he said.