NEW YORK - Even after receiving his fourth "DNP-CD" in six preseason games, Hamady N'Diaye emerged from the visiting locker room at Madison Square Garden Sunday night with headphones on his ears and a broad smile on his face.
The former Rutgers star and reigning Big East Defensive Player of the Year remains upbeat and hopeful despite sitting the bench for the entirety of the Knicks' 92-90 victory over the Washington Wizards.
"You kind of expect it at this point," N'Diaye said in a Garden hallway. "There's a lot of big guys on our team and they have a lot more experience than I do. So what I do is I learn from them in practice and I give it all I have in practice every day."
The 7-foot, 235-pound N'Diaye was chosen in the second round of the NBA Draft by the Minnesota Timberwolves and then dealt to the Wizards.
On the night of the draft, the native of Senegal who grew up playing soccer said he couldn't help but cry.
"It's a whole lot emotional," he said that night. "I don't know what to say, to be honest."
But N'Diaye is now part of a team loaded with frontcourt players in JaVale McGee, a rising star in the league, Andray Blatche, Yi Jianlian, the former Net, and former UConn standout Hilton Armstrong.
Asked where N'Diaye fit in, Washington coach Flip Saunders said, "I don't know. Right now he's in a tough situation because we have a lot of young guys. We've got McGee who we're trying to get a lot of time. Blatche is coming off an injury so we're trying to get him in shape and Yi's new. So we've got a lot of big guys that we've got to get time for. Right now he's done a great job for us."
McGee said N'Diaye has come from the help side several times to block his shot in practice and remains "positive although he's not playing."
"He just needs to work on being patient," McGee added. "He's still young, he's a rookie. Just being patient and getting adjusted to the NBA game."
N'Diaye led the Big East and ranked third nationally with 4.5 blocks last season.
Yet he has played less than 13 total minutes through six preseason games, getting about 11 minutes against the Chicago Bulls Oct. 8. He failed to score but notched three rebounds and one block.
"It's rewarding," he said. "I'm working my way from the bottom up."
N'Diaye's experience is in stark contrast to fellow rookie John Wall, the No. 1 overall draft pick out of Kentucky and now the Wizards starting point guard.
Wall put up a team-high 19 points, six assists, five rebounds and just three turnovers while playing a team-best 34 minutes against the Knicks.
"We're always together and we talk all the time," N'Diaye said of the team's rookies. "Somebody like John or [Trevor] Booker, they're really humble guys that really want to work hard every day just like I do. And so that's why I think we click so much."
N'Diaye said he had "a couple good offers" to play professionally overseas, but chose this path instead.
"That was one of the ideas at first, but at the same time I'd rather stay here and kind of learn with the team," he said. "Even if I'm not playing as much as I was, I'm going to wait for my time. Everybody got one shot and whenever it's that time, I'm ready to go."
As for his former school, N'Diaye knows that Rutgers is undergoing a transition to a new coach (Mike Rice) and is shorthanded, especially in the frontcourt.
"I still keep in touch with everybody out there," he said. "This year is going to be a tough year for them [with] the coaching change and the fact that they lost players and they don't have nobody to replace the scoring and everything.
"But I think they are working really hard, harder than before probably. I've heard about everything that's been going on. I just have my wishes for them and know that they're going to give it their best."