This story has been updated to reflect the version that will be in Thursday's printed edition of The Post.
CLEVELAND — The locker room was gloomy following a 117-88 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Inside, the New York Knicks spoke softly and subdued.
Except for Maurice Ndour.
As teammates sulked in towels and sweatpants, Ndour donned a slim dark suit, his dreadlocks tied tightly and his face cemented in a smile.
“I’m doin’ great, baby,” he said.
Despite his teammates' frustration, Ndour was radiant, soaking in his first NBA appearance — even if he didn’t play — making him the first former Ohio Bobcat on an NBA regular season roster since 2005.
Born in Dakar, Senegal, he grew up playing soccer. By age 8, Ndour stood at 6-feet, and his mom suggested the switch to basketball.
After playing well in a basketball tournament, Ndour received international attention and was offered a spot on the team at Okayama Gakugeikan High School in Japan. At the time, Ndour couldn’t find the country on a map.
He didn’t know the language either, but soon conversed in classrooms as well as he dominated on the court, averaging over 30 points per game for three years, according to a previous Post report.
Soon, Ndour attracted attention from schools in another country — the U.S.
After he finished high school, Ndour returned to Senegal. Six months later, he was in New York City, playing for Monroe College, a junior college in the the Bronx.
Given a new opportunity, Ndour adapted and thrived. By the end of his second year, he averaged almost 16 points and 11 rebounds per game. He left Monroe as a two-time NJCAA All-Region pick and was named the 86th-best junior college product in his recruiting class, according to jucorecruiting.com.
Offers came from big-time programs with interest from schools in the Big East and Conference USA, but Ndour wanted minutes immediately. After three visits to Athens, he found his new home.
Adjusting in Athens
Forty minutes before the Knicks and Cavaliers tipped off, Ndour leaned back and laughed. Again, the locker room was quiet, and again, the Senegalese forward provided an upbeat attitude.
He laughed at a comment he made three years ago, when asked how he’d describe himself: a beast.
“That’s a long time ago,” he said, smiling. “I was a beast in (junior college). Hell yeah, I remember that. I was a beast in college, man.”
Ndour came to Athens and joined Ohio prior to the 2013-14 season. Still relatively unknown, his 6-foot-9, 200-pound frame with a 7-foot-5 wingspan was an irreplaceable force.
“Just as far as his measurables, he’s a once-in-a-lifetime player,” Ohio assistant coach Jason Kemp said. “(He’s) extremely active and athletic. You don’t get those, especially at the mid-major level.”
Starting in 31 of Ohio’s 36 games, Ndour averaged almost 14 points and seven rebounds per game, in addition to 55 blocks that season. When the year concluded, he was named Second Team All-MAC as the Bobcats went 25-12.
With one year of eligibility still, Ndour remained in Athens, but made another adjustment.
This time, it was a coaching change.
Jim Christian, the then-Ohio coach who recruited Ndour, left to take the coaching job at Boston College. Saul Phillips, from North Dakota State, was brought in as a replacement.
“The first year, we were trying to transition from the Christian era to Saul’s, he was great,” Kemp, who came with Phillips to Ohio, said. “He kinda showed our younger guys that’s how you have to be every day. His energy was infectious.”
That energy was vital. Ohio went 10-20.
Individually, Ndour flourished, averaging a team-high 16 points and eight rebounds per game. Additionally, he developed into a perimeter threat, too.
He was named second-team all-conference again.
On the road again
Ndour went undrafted, but not unnoticed.
After working out with the Knicks before the draft, the organization signed Ndour to the summer league squad, where he averaged nearly 10 points and five rebounds per game.
After eventually being offered a meager contract of less than the guaranteed $200,000, Ndour chose the Dallas Mavericks instead, according to the New York Post. The Mavericks offered an 18-month guaranteed deal for $600,000. The deal was cut short when Ndour had a stress reaction on his left leg and was waived.
“I definitely didn’t have no doubt I’d get back and play,” he said about getting released just prior to the 2015-16 opening night roster. “I didn’t know if it was going to be in the NBA or Europe, but I definitely had the confidence in me.”
The next move was to Spain.
Once Ndour recovered, he joined Real Madrid in Liga ACB, where he won a league and annual cup championship.
When the season ended, he was back in the U.S., back with the Knicks Summer League team and back fighting for a spot on an NBA roster.
The Ndour effect
April 30, 2005, was the last time a former Ohio player was featured in an NBA game. It was Brandon Hunter, who played for the Orlando Magic. Originally drafted by the Boston Celtics in the second round of the 2003 NBA Draft, Hunter’s career was brief, having played for two seasons and 67 games.
But that was then.
Mid-morning Oct. 25 in Cleveland, the Knicks were in their pregame shootaround. At the end, Ndour sat alone excitedly at mid-court along the scorer’s table. In the arena around him, every seat had a Cavaliers championship shirt draped over it with little plastic rings, supposed to replicate Cleveland’s banner raising and ring ceremony that night.
“There’s not a lot of kids that can say they will witness this moment right now,” he said. “No, I didn’t envision myself being here right now. ... It’s definitely a dream come true for me, and I’m just happy that I’m here.”
Still as scrappy as he was at Ohio, Ndour adds a fast-paced dimension to New York.
“What he gives us is that ‘energy guy,’ ” Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek, said. “He’s very active, he cuts hard to the basket, he runs defensively, he wreaks havoc on the other team by running around. We like that we have that option.”
Ndour, 24, isn’t the lone rookie big man on the roster. The Knicks have five players who could double as a forward or center with a year or less of NBA experience. And four of those players have played in Spain, along with Ndour.
Kristaps Porzingis, a second-year center who played in Spain, sees the youthful frontcourt as exciting and beneficial.
“Obviously we’re always competing in practice, we go as hard as we can,” he said. “At the end of the day, I want to help (a teammate) earn minutes.”
What Ndour means for Ohio and beyond
Wherever Ndour plays, whether for the Knicks or their D-League team, Phillips loves the potential.
“Realistically, if he sticks that’s awesome,” he said. “But even if he’s up and down between the D-League and the NBA, that experience will do him wonders.”
Ndour isn’t the only Ohio player under Phillips with professional experience; he’s just the most high-profile. According to Kemp, every Bobcat who’s graduated in the past two years — Phillips is entering his third season at Ohio this month — has professional experience, even if it's in Europe.
“(Ndour) got a lot of pride in being a Bobcat,” Kemp said. He also drove to Cleveland to see Ndour in what could have been his first game.
“That goes a long way for us. When people turn on the TV and he gets on the active roster and he's out there playing, they’re gonna know he’s from Ohio because we’re gonna make sure they know.”
Ndour made his NBA debut Tuesday night against the Detroit Pistons. He played five minutes and scored three points in a 102-89 loss. He also had two rebounds and a steal.
He is now the 10th player in NBA history from Senegal to log minutes. Previously, he’s played for Senegal in the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup and the 2016 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament.
“Playing here on this platform, I not only represent Senegal, but the whole continent,” Ndour said. “My goal is to try and do the best I can and inspire these kids so they can do better in their lives and try and use basketball and do the same thing that I did. It’s possible for them.”
At the moment, New York is home. Again. For Ndour, the road from Senegal to midtown Manhattan has been adventurous, but necessary.
“It’s happiness,” he said. “I’m happy to be here, I’m happy to be back, especially with the Knicks. I’m just excited.”