SEATTLE — At first glance, it’s a trip about basketball and improving for the 2012-13 season. With the loss of Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten to the NBA draft, the Washington can use the trip overseas to find an identity, build chemistry and work on its newly implemented UCLA high-post offense. But dig a little deeper, it’s a trip — which runs from Aug. 25 through Sept. 9 — about so much more. It’s a trip about learning and experiencing different cultures. It’s a trip about perspective and the privilege of playing basketball and receiving an education. And it’s a trip that will allow senior center Aziz N’Diaye a chance to go home.
The Huskies headed for Paris on Saturday, and over the course of the next two weeks, they will make stops in Barcelona, Nice, Monaco and N’Diaye’s home of Dakar, Senegal. They will play games, practice, see sights, take a class based on the trip and even do some teaching. In the end, it’s an opportunity that most of the players will not soon forget.
“It’s going to be like nothing I’ve ever experienced,” said junior C.J. Wilcox. “I’ve never been out of the country. Most of us haven’t.”
Indeed, only two or three Husky players have ever left the United States. So a chance to go to Europe and Africa is something they may never get to experience again.
“It will be a life changing experience for them,” N’Diaye said.
But it will be rewarding experience for N’Diaye, who finally gets to go home. He hasn’t set foot on his native soil in over two years.
“I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “It’s been a while.”
As a reward to seniors, who stay four years in the program, head coach Lorenzo Romar schedules a game in their hometown as a thank you for service to the program.
N’Diaye, a junior college transfer, has spent three seasons in the program. But Romar simply couldn’t pass up the chance to reward the hardworking 7-foot center. He knew the struggle that N’Diaye endured to get where he is today. He got to see the documentary movie, “Elevate” that followed N’Diaye and three other West African players in their quest to get to the United States and earn college basketball scholarships.
“I was just overwhelmed with what those kids go through and how big a deal it is for them to get out here and actually have an opportunity to get an education and maybe have a chance to get to the next level,” he said. “I thought with our tour coming up it would be great to go there and play a game.”
But the Huskies aren’t just going to play a game.
“We let Aziz’s family see who he’s been living with the last few years,” Romar said. “Let them get a chance to know us a little bit in the brief time that we’re there. It gives our guys a chance to see what Aziz is all about. See where he’s coming from. See what his world is like to better understand him.”
They are going to see first hand the life and world that N’Diaye left behind. They will experience his culture, his food (fish and rice) and his family. They will host basketball camps for young children.
“They will be excited,” N’Diaye said of kids in Dakar. “You are going to see kids fall in love with the game of basketball. Seeing people coming from the United States and going to college and getting their education and playing basketball, they are going look up to us. For us, you get the opportunity and you can learn from it and give back to those kids. I think it will mean a lot.”
As part of the class they are taking for the trip, Husky players listened to N’Diaye discuss his homeland.
“He kind of opened up,” Wilcox said. “He told us how different it was for him to out there. It was humbling just to hear about where he came from, and how he gets to go back.”
Romar was also excited about the trip to Senegal. He talked of the African safari the team would take as well as a trip to the island of Goree. It’s a place where some slaves were captured and housed on that island before being shipped across the Atlantic.
“That’s going to be unreal,” he said
Obviously, coming together as a basketball team and working on the new offense will be a key to the trip. Besides Ross and Wroten, the Huskies also lost high-scoring Tacoma Community College transfer Mark McLaughlin, who left the team a few weeks back.
“You can’t really get around it, we lost Terrence and Tony, those are two great talents,” Wilcox said. “I feel like we have a lot of solid players and a lot of potential. And as long as we buy into it, we can be good.”
After not making the NCAA tournament last season, the trip will be key in the development for this team.
“We need to test ourselves against different competition and try to get more chemistry as a unit,” Wilcox said. “It will be a good test before the season starts.