Kevin Pelton, SUPERSONICS.COM
| July 11, 2006
Where he was a few years ago, Seattle SuperSonics first-round pick Mouhamed Sene
surely could not imagine where he is now. After signing his rookie contract and practicing with the Sonics Summer League squad for the first time on Monday, Sene met the media after the Sonics morning workout on Tuesday.
"It's hard because you run every time, but I like it," Sene said. "I feel good."
It's been about four years since Sene, who grew up in Thiès, Senegal (population 237,849 as of the 2002 census) first began to seriously play basketball, spurred in large part by his father.
"I think I get better in practice every time. I'm learning to make the post move, everything."
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty
"He told me every time I went to a playground or went to shoot, 'You can go and learn it if you want, play. If you don't, stop.'"
At the time, Sene was studying at a private school to become an auto mechanic. (Even now that he doesn't have to, Sene says he retains his skills, boasting, "I was a good mechanic.") His future was about to become decidedly more glamorous; with his size, Sene was a natural at basketball.
At the age of 18, Sene left Senegal to play professionally in Belgium, a move he admits frightened his parents.
"At the beginning, it was very, very difficult for me to leave my family in Senegal and live my life here in Belgium," Sene told HoopsHype.com in May. "I was alone in my apartment and it was not really easy for me to adapt. It was a tough road that I chose, but it is the way it is. I had to understand the mentality of the people here, how to deal with people here... But my teammates were very helpful and finally I adapted to this new life."
A season in Belgium's junior league and one in the First Division, where he averaged 3.1 points, 4.1 rebounds and 0.9 blocks per game later, Sene entered the radar screens of NBA scouts, enticed by his freakish 7-8 1/2 wingspan. But it wasn't until the 2006 Nike Hoop Summit in Memphis, where Sene had 15 points, six rebounds and a record-tying nine blocks in 27 minutes, that scouts elevated Sene into the top 10 of this year's draft.
"There were like four big men (on the International team) and one big man had an injury," recalled Sene. "I felt good in that game."
The Hoop Summit was less than three months ago, and since then Sene's life has been a whirlwind of workouts (according to HoopsHype, Sene worked out for seven NBA teams, including twice visiting Seattle) and trying to adjust to a new culture and language.
"Senegal is not big," said Sene. "It's a small country. It's good to move sometimes, to go out. It's not the same, here to Senegal."
Drafted by the Sonics on June 28, Sene arrived in Seattle three days later and has been working out at The Furtado Center since then with the team's coaching staff and frequently against fellow 20-year-old Robert Swift, the Sonics 2004 lottery pick. Sene has continued to impress onlookers with his defensive potential while showing he needs time to improve at the offensive end of the floor.
"He's one of the only guys I've ever seen longer than me," said Swift. "It's been a great experience playing against him. The first couple of days, I was changing my shots, fading back longer than normal - little things I didn't even realize until I watched tape and talked to coach. He's making me do all the little things; not being able to go over somebody but having to go up and around or using quickness instead of size."
"He's a great young talent," added Denham Brown, the Sonics second-round pick out of UConn. "He's got to work hard offensively, but defensively, he's just got to learn one, two things and he'll be a great defensive player."
Sene says he's yet to be surprised by the level of practices while working primarily against Swift and free-agent Jared Reiner, who played 19 games as a rookie for the Chicago Bulls in 2004-05, but he does sense improvement.
"I think I get better in practice every time," Sene said. "I'm learning to make the post move, everything."
Along with Reiner one of two centers on the Sonics Summer League roster, Sene will get plenty of experience during the Rocky Mountain Revue from July 14-21. Summer leagues are generally dominated by guards, not big men, because teams have been playing together for only a few weeks and the pace of play is high. Last year, Sonics first-round pick Johan Petro struggled with foul trouble in Salt Lake City before emerging as a starter during training camp.
Still, Sene should be able to make valuable gains in terms of adjusting to the speed of the game and the NBA's rules. Because of his ability to touch the rim while standing on tiptoes, Sene faces a significant adjustment in terms of goaltending rules; in Europe, the ball is live while on the rim.
Sene said he plans to take a couple of weeks off after summer league to return home and see his family (Sene is the youngest of four siblings, with two brothers and a sister). After that, he'll return to Seattle and continue his workouts in preparation for the possibility of playing a limited role as a rookie next season.
"We've got to support him and encourage him, because what he does can help our team," added Sonics Coach Bob Hill, who pushed for the team to select Sene. "How much I'll use him, I don't know, but in exhibition season I'll try to give him as many minutes as I can - live with his mistakes and get him playing hard. If we can get him beyond being real nervous in exhibition season, it's sure going to help when the season starts."