Oct. 22, 2015
By Jon Cooper
Athletes are competitors by nature, armed with an intensity that rises according to the level of the stakes.
Sometimes that increased intensity can supersede everything, turning teammates and even the closest of friends into adversaries, who often, require little to get those competitive juices flowing at high speed.
Gueye, a sophomore forward from Dakar, Senegal, and Ogbonda, a freshman from Port Harcourt, Nigeria, are teammates who have become good friends and also are roommates, but can flip that adversarial switch at a simple inquiry seeking any kind of comparison between them.
Often there’s no need to even to go beyond “Which of you.” Those three words are enough to transform the smiles both frequently wear, into steely stares and turn friendly tones into escalated barbs, coming fast and furious so as to keep the other from making a point.
Case in point, this exchange at the mere question, “As roommates, which of you is the neat one and who is the sloppy one?
Ogbonda quickly jumped in: “Oh, he’s the sloppy one.”
“No. I’m not the sloppy one,” Gueye immediately replied.
…And they’re off.
Ogbonda: “You should see his room. Oh my gosh. You’ve got antelopes, deer, all that coming out of your room. My room is always neat. He’s got stuff outside and inside the room.”
Gueye, firing off a reply on Ogbonda’s argument: “Where? Where? Where? Where is inside my room?”
Ogbonda: “You have stuff outside the room, in the hallway. He’s got his combs, he’s got boxes.”
Gueye: “His box is in my room. Come on. Okay. Tonight, we’re going to take it out.”
A smiling Ogbonda ends the dust-up, “Yeah.”
Then, just as suddenly, the gladiators are back to friends and teammates — mentor and protégé.
It’s no coincidence that Ogbonda is rooming with Gueye.
Ogbonda, a 6-10, 238-pound freshman, comes highly rated, a three-star prospect by ESPN, Rivals and Scout, and the 26th nationally ranked center. At National Christian Academy in Fort Washington, Md., Sylvester averaged 13.0 points, 11.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game as a senior, earning third-team All-Metro honors in the Washington, D.C., area as the Eagles went 20-6. Impressive since he didn’t start playing basketball until the age of 14. He stood out as much in the classroom, being named valedictorian of his class.
But coming to college, especially one as academically and athletically challenging as Georgia Tech, requires an adjustment, something that wasn’t lost on the coaching staff. Thus the pairing.
While Ogbonda may have been lost at first, he’s finding his way and quickly, especially on the court. During the team’s summer trip to the Bahamas, he averaged 6.0 points on .750 shooting (8-for-12) and 5.3 rebounds in 12.7 minutes, including a 13-point effort on 6-for-7 shooting against the Providence Storm.
Gueye and his teammates have been a big reason for the quick adjustment during the summer and thus far in practice.
“They help me out just talking,” Ogbonda said. “Because I’m a freshman, they’re always trying to come at me. They get the ball in the post and they say, ‘Okay, Sylvester’s guarding you. Oh, that’s an easy bucket.’ They tell me, ‘Don’t back down. Just play good D, go at them, be physical.’”
Academics-wise, he’s also made the adjustment.
“Thanks to our coaches and our advisors, managing our study hall time, always checking in making sure you’re getting your homework in, stuff like that,” he said. “I have tutoring and all that so it helps with coping.”
Gueye lends support as he’s able to identify with the issues his roommate faces having gone through them last year.
“At first, it was basketball-wise and it was hard, transitioning from high school. In high school we played so slow but here we were playing so quick. I was having a hard time to understand,” he recalled. “Marcus [Georges-Hunt] and everybody were helping me out to get better. They were telling me to calm down. You’re going to be alright. It’s your first year.’
It’s a more comfortable and more determined Gueye that heads into the 2015-16 season.
“This year I need to improve a lot because last year I didn’t get a lot of time to play,” said the 6-9, 218-pound forward, who played 34 minutes in eight games (four in the ACC), last season, making his debut Nov. 18, 2014, against Alabama A&M and playing a season-high eight minutes Feb. 21 at North Carolina, getting a basket in each game. “Improve my skill, my game, get it stronger and be ready. I remember last year I was getting frustrated sometimes. I’d forget the offense we run. Now, I know everything. I’ve worked more on my game, too. I want to just step up and use my experience from last year and not make the same mistakes that I was making last year.”
He got off to a solid start over the summer, averaging 2.3 points and 5.3 rebounds in 13.3 minutes, including seven points and five boards against the Providence Storm.
To improve his offensive game, Gueye developed a sweeping hook shot after watching video of legendary center Hakeem Olajuwon tutoring LeBron James and Dwight Howard.
It’s a shot that proved effective against some Tech bigs in practice.
But would Ogbonda, who hopes to add rim-protection to a Yellow Jackets’ team that finished 11th in the ACC in shot-blocking, be able to block the hook?
Both laughed off the question at first but then off went the smiles.
“Yeah,” said Ogbonda.
“Oh, come on,” said Gueye. “You can’t touch my shot.”
“I won’t let him get it in the post,” concludes Ogbonda, breaking into his hearty laugh as he grabs Gueye’s shoulder and gives it a friendly shake.
This back-and-forth could go on all day and just might. But it soon becomes obvious that it’s purely friendly banter and serves as a fun way to keep things fun among the friends.
Gueye admits that his favorite off-the-court activity is “Hanging out with this boy,” looking at Ogbonda. “We sit down and talk about things, give each other advice. Playing FIFA a lot.”
So who’s better at FIFA?
And they’re off!…again.
“I am!” declares the freshman. “He has never beaten me.”
“No!” replies the sophomore. “Come on.”
“There’s no way you can say you’re better when you’ve never beaten somebody, right?” reasons Ogbonda. “He’s never beaten me. He has never beaten me. So there’s no comparison there.”
“You’ve never beaten me,” Gueye counters. “You beat me one time.”
Ogbonda: “You’ve never beaten me. You’ve never won a game we’ve played.”
Gueye: “We will play one time.”
Ogbonda: “And I will beat you.”
Gueye: “I went like three months without playing. You were playing every day.”
They agreed to disagree on winning at FIFA but were unanimous, and just as passionate, when it came to Georgia Tech winning this upcoming season. On that subject there was nothing but common ground.
“One goal for the season I have is for us to be in the Final Four,” said Ogbonda. “One personal goal is to be ready anytime I’m called on the court, mentally and physically.”
“Basically Final Four of the NCAA and ACC Championship,” said Gueye. “Another thing as [Ogbonda] said, be ready. Be ready.”