Most of the time, the opening tip in a basketball game is a simple formality. But Oakland Mills junior forward Mamadou Ndiaye can make it a spectacle.
Opposite Hammond's big man at a recent home game, Ndiaye — a sleek 6 feet, 7 inches and 195 pounds — easily gets a foot higher to reach the ball at its highest point. He sends the tap back with such force, however, the ball goes over a teammate and out of bounds on the baseline.
The seamless effort is an immediate testament to Ndiaye's natural athletic gifts.
From there, his first half includes a couple emphatic, two-handed dunks from half-court sets; a blocked shot that caroms off the backboard so hard it starts a fast break at midcourt; and a nimble tip-in that just beats the buzzer.
Ndiaye finishes with 22 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks – a typical performance -- as the No. 8 Scorpions (11-1) comfortably win another game.
In the past few years, Oakland Mills has had an impressive run of talented forwards help the program become a dominant force in Howard County. The latest is Ndiaye, a transfer from Laurel who has helped the Scorpions go 9-0 in league play so far this season.
"Athletically, I've never coached a kid with his natural ability, and I've coached some very athletic kids," Oakland Mills coach Jon Browne said. "He's the quickest kid off his feet I've ever coached. He can jump out of the gym."
This season, Ndiaye is averaging 22 points, 10-plus rebounds and 3.5 blocked shots per game, but he is a work in progress.
He didn't start playing basketball until the eighth grade, and is still learning the system at Oakland Mills after two varsity seasons at Laurel.
In between all the monstrous dunks and intimidating blocked shots, he occasionally gets caught out of position on defensive sets, and sometimes decides to dribble after a rebound instead of passing it to a guard.
Browne yells and Ndiaye responds positively. His love for basketball and willingness to work hard helps him polish his game every day.
"The system is pretty different [from Laurel] and the coaches are different," Ndiaye said. "But as a basketball player, it wasn't that hard to transition. I just have to stay focused, listen to the coach and try to digest everything he says, knowing it's going to help me get better."
Ndiaye grew up in Raleigh, N.C. and, aside from briefly playing soccer when he was younger, wasn't into sports. After watching his uncle play basketball, he decided to give it a try. Always the tallest in his class since elementary school, basketball was a natural fit.
His height, combined with his big smile and low-key, friendly manner, is beneficial off the basketball court, as well.
"Everybody is always asking me how tall I am and people look up to me," he says. "That's what actually helped me make friends so quickly here. My height drew a lot of attention, and it helped me get adjusted and comfortable."
Ndiaye has made opponents uncomfortable with his presence at both ends of the court.
On defense, if he's not blocking a shot, he's either altering one or making opponents think twice about coming inside. On offense, he runs the floor smoothly, is fluid to the basket and also has the shown the ability to hit 3-pointers.
It's Ndiaye's highlight-reel dunks that draw the most attention. Browne guesses more than 30 of the 98 field goals Ndiaye has made this season have been jams.
"He's very explosive," said teammate Nekhi Bradley, a senior guard. "The first [jaw-dropping play] I remember came in a summer league game when he drove the baseline and dunked on two guys. I was like 'This is going to be a fun season. I can't wait!' Now, nothing he does really surprises me."
The program's run of difference-making big men began with Greg Whittington, a 2011 grad who led the Scorpions to a 25-1 season before moving on to Georgetown, and now, Rutgers. Last season, Lavon Long, a Mount St. Joseph transfer, led the team to a 24-1 season and is now playing at Siena.
Now, it's Ndiaye's time.
"The sky is the limit for 'Dou," Browne said. "I think there's a ton of potential, and all the things he's lacking are very easily taught. And he'll work at it — he's a gym rat.
"So, it's just a matter of ingraining those things — repetition, repetition, repetition. He's very talented, with a great skill set already, but he's still only a junior and still has some growing left to do. If he grows another inch or two, with that skill set, he can be another major D-I prospect."