“I was watching it on TV and now I’m the one playing,” Ousmane Dieng, the Thunder rookie, relished

Drafted 15th overall in the 2022 NBA draft, young French winger Ousmane Dieng (Oklahoma) is making his mark in the big leagues. The former resident of the federal center signed his best performance on November 1 with 8 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists in 17 minutes. It bodes well for the 2.06m winger who has opted for exile in New Zealand in the NBL, the Australian and New Zealand league that attracts more promising young players ahead of their draft.

Ousmane, this good start to the season and this acclimatization in Oklahoma is going well, right?

It’s going well. I had a game on Tuesday. It went well. We have a very young team. We are all here to learn. We practice. There are some veterans like Mike Muscala and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander who have been in the League for a long time. It is good for learning.

Is it exciting to walk the NBA floors?

Of course. Every time I go into the NBA room, I tell myself that I’m watching it on TV and now I’m playing. It’s always awesome.

After moving to New Zealand, was it harder to manage the distance from a personal perspective?

Yes, it helps. I also left home when I was 13. It’s not too difficult from that point.

The Thunder have had a great start to the season, do you feel like silencing the people who predicted last place?

To be honest, we don’t listen very much. We are here to play, show off and win matches. We don’t listen to those critics. Hopefully we can keep winning more games. We are a very young team. Reminds me a bit of INSEP.

Is the rhythm of matches and training very different from what you have experienced so far?

This is the rhythm of matches. We play every other day, even every day. There are fewer exercises. But that’s the most important thing, well concentrated when you have it, especially being mentally ready. For the matches, as soon as we have the opportunity, it is to give everything and scratch minutes.

OKC is committed to developing young players, how is this accomplished?

For example, if I want to shoot at the gym, I can call a coach and he’ll be there in less than ten minutes. We have everything on site. The physios, the doctors, the bodybuilding. Everything is really there to be developed.

Luguentz Dort, your teammate, received praise from Luka Doncic that put him in the top three defenders in the League, you too?

Sometimes in training, he defends me in the switch. He is a very, very good player, a very good defender and he speaks French.

Chet Holmgren, the number 2 pick in the draft, is out for the season, has his injury changed the team’s plans?

Chet is obviously not there, it’s strange because we expected him to play. I don’t know if that changed the plans. He is there, he trains a lot in the gym. He was not removed from the group. It went well.

Are you confident going into your rookie season?

I am confident because I know the coach puts me on the pitch and trusts me. I just have to give it back to him when I get home by playing hard in defense and getting chances in attack.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is the star of the team, is he amazing every day?

He is very strong. I think he’s one of the best NBA players right now. He finished as Conference Player of the Week. He averaged 30 points out of 50%. Even though he is young, he is one of the oldest in this team. We ask him for advice.

Do you talk a lot about Victor Wembanyama?

People ask me if I played him or if I know him. I played with him at U16, we were friends. We saw what he did in Las Vegas against Ignite.

Playing alongside him in the France team with him for example in the near future, is that an idea you’re thinking about?

I wish. It is a goal and an honor to play in the France A team, especially in the Paris 2024 Olympic Games that are coming up. It’s in the corner of my head

Are you in touch with Boris Diaw, the general manager of the Blues?

Yes, I talked to him but it was not related to that. I talk to Boris sometimes.

Interview by Arnaud Valadon

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