This years candidate comes from a bit of a different background, going through the pipeline of an all-star game and heavily attended practices that have him as the talk of every International scout in the NBA.
Saer Sene came to the US for a week of training and an all-star game between the top High School players in America and some of their International counterparts in Memphis. DraftExpress was the lone NBA draft outlet on hand to cover both the practices and the game in person thanks to the diligence of our scout Mike Schmidt.
The end result was a near triple-double that made NBA scouts mark down the small town of Pepinster, Belgium in the municipal of Liege as the most exciting spot in Europe to camp out over the next month.
Senes story is eerily reminiscent to another African big man who showed flashes of incredible potential at the Nike Hoop Summit (this time in 2000) playing for the world team. His name was Olumide Oyedeji, and he was named MVP of the game over hyped prospects such as Tony Parker (20 points, 7 assists), Boki Nachbar, Darius Rice, Zach Randloph and Darius Miles. Most mock drafts at the time had the 6-10 monster athlete listed as a lottery pick, but questions about his true age (he was also supposed to be 19) dropped him to the middle of the 2nd round. His story gives us reason to be cautions about going overboard considering that no African prospect has gone in the 1st round since DeSagana Diop in 2001, but his upside regardless looks too great to ignore.
What makes Saer Sene so intriguing is the fact that hes reportedly only been playing basketball for slightly over two years. In February of 2004, his current Senegalese/French agent Bouna NDiyae traveled back to his native country of Senegal with one of his scouts to sign the player they hoped would pan out as a worthy investment after 3-4 years. He was placed at the SEED academy in Thies, Senegal, founded by Dallas Mavericks Director of Scouting and African basketball expert Amadou Fall.
From there he was sent to work out for NBA scouts in June of 2004 at the Reebok Eurocamp in Treviso, Italy, and according to reports was laughed at for how raw and uncoordinated he was. He then went to play in the 2nd Division of Belgium, and put up excellent numbers there. Thinking that he was at least 3-4 years away, Sene signed a 4 year contract in May of 2005 with Belgian Charleoi, who currently play in the ULEB Cup. Sene was then loaned to Verviers Pepinster for the current season, where he has struggled to get minutes for one reason or another. In two of the four occasions that he received over 17 minutes in a single game, Sene twice notched double-doubles (10 points, 11 rebounds and 10 points, 14 rebounds in 17 and 20 minutes respectively).
His agent Bouna NDiaye (who also represents Spurs draftee Ian Mahinmi and Mavs Center DJ Mbenga) questions whether he was being stashed a bit in hopes of keeping him in Belgium for another season. Sene will surely not be playing in Belgium next season anyway, so it will be interesting to see what kind of playing time he gets starting this Wednesday against Belgian powerhouse Oostende now that the secret is out and scouts will be out in droves to watch him play. NDiaye says there will be no hiding anymore and hes very excited to see what his client can do.
Sene reportedly has 3 years left on his contract, but has a clear buyout sum of $425,000 this year or $375,000 next year should he decide to stay another season in Europe. He will be entering the draft and is hoping to go up against all of the top centers in private workouts if they will be willing to compete with him, LaMarcus Aldridge especially.
An International NBA scout we spoke with who has been following him for some time now has very little doubt about how interesting Sene is. Everyone is very intrigued by him. Were talking about a guy that will be the longest player in the NBA right off the bat. Magloire has a 7-7 wingspan and so does Mutombo I believe, but Saer also combines that wingspan with a very intriguing knack for timing and anticipating that has been improving all the time. His instincts are better for example than DeSagana Diop, and we see what hes doing right now for the Mavericks. His feel for the game isnt great right now, but its getting better every time we see him. He definitely has a great upside. He really surprised me by scoring 15 points in the Hoop Summit, we know that he already has two NBA ready skills that are both very rare and always in demandshot-blocking and rebounding. I could easily see him going in the top 20 of this draft since you know exactly what you are going to get, he is more than just upside since its obvious that he will be a helluva shot-blocker right off the bat, and especially as he continues to grow into his body. Another African basketball expert (who is not an NBA scout) says he is just as good as DJ Mbenga right now, but hes 5 years younger than him. I like his upside because hes got a great personality on and off the court. Hes a great kid, very quiet, but on the floor he is an animal. You can tell that he loves to play basketball and has a hunger to continue to improve.
As with all African prospects, the first question that is brought up surrounds what his true age is. His agent Bouna NDiaye says that this is to be expected since there are no birth certificates in Africa the way there are in the States, and that ages are approximated since official records are rarely kept. I cant say with any certainty that he is exactly 19 years old, but there is no way hes older than 20 or 21 at the very most, although I do believe he is 19. His progress over the past few years has been astonishing. The NBA scout we spoke with shared a similar sentiment: of course he is 19. Just look at the way he has improved lately.
Senes season ends on May 13th, which will give him 6 full weeks to train and conduct private NBA workouts with anyone that is willing to go up against him. NDiaye is planning to bring him over to Sacramento to work with his personal trainer, particularly to work on his footwork inside the post.
Look for a detailed scouting report on DraftExpress coming in the next few weeks as we acquire more footage of this extremely intriguing prospect.