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WSU Men's Basketball

‘It doesn’t get better than this’: Former Washington State big man Mouhamed Gueye loving the NBA, despite lack of minutes

By Stephen Hunt The Spokesman-Review

DALLAS – Eight minutes. That’s approximately how much NBA experience Mouhamed Gueye has gained as a rookie with Atlanta this season over his three appearances, most recently on Saturday at Denver, when he played 3 minutes, 43 seconds. However, it’s a number which needs qualifying.

Gueye, 21, a second-round pick of Charlotte in the 2023 NBA Draft out of Washington State who was then traded to Atlanta, where he signed a four-year, $7.64 million rookie contract, has missed much of his debut campaign with a stress fracture in his lower back. He made his NBA debut on October 29 at Milwaukee and also played the following night against Minnesota, but wouldn’t log his next minutes as a Hawk until over five months later.

However, the affable ex-Cougar maintains a glass half-full mentality now that his first year in the league is almost over. “Yeah, it doesn’t get better than this. Even though I’ve had injuries, came back, and got hurt again the next week, it’s all part of the process,” Gueye said. “At the end of the day, I get paid to play basketball. Every day you’ve got to control what you can and give the rest to God.”

A fixture in Pullman between 2021 and 2023, Gueye was named to the 2022 Pac-12 All-Freshman Team after averaging 7.4 points and 5.2 rebounds. As a sophomore, he truly blossomed, averaging 14.3 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 1.9 assists, earning first-team all-Pac 12 recognition and attracting the attention of NBA scouts.

And even though he only played two seasons as a Coug, those are years he’ll never forget. “WSU is a family. There’s nothing like it,” Gueye said. “It’s a small town in the middle of nowhere, but when you go there you become part of a family. They embrace you, the community. Everybody is so loving and ready to help. It was really fun watching my ex-teammates like Myles (Rice) and the success they had this year.”

In January, Atlanta faced the Golden State Warriors in San Francisco. Even though he didn’t play on that trip, it allowed him to connect with fellow WSU product Klay Thompson, a four-time NBA champion and five-time All-Star.

“He was amazing. He’s such a great guy,” Gueye said. “He said you don’t see a lot of us (WSU guys) in the league, so we got to embrace each other. He gave me advice. Hopefully, the next time I see him, I will be on the court playing against him.”

Even though he didn’t log an NBA minute for over five months, once the WSU product started getting healthy, he played for Atlanta’s nearby G-League affiliate, the College Park Skyhawks. Gueye made his G-League debut on February 28 against Cleveland and had 10 points, four boards, two assists and two steals in nearly 16 minutes.

In total, he appeared in four games for the SkyHawks and averaged 8.3 points, 5.3 boards, 1.8 steals, 1.3 blocks and one assist.

“It felt great (to return to the court),” he said. “It’d been a long time. It was great for me and my people to see me back on the court.

“It’s great (to play in the G-League). It’s obviously different than the NBA. The physicality’s different, everything is different. We’ve got a great G-League team with the players and coach Ryan (Schmidt). It doesn’t get better than that. It’s literally like family. It’s like the Hawks. It was an amazing experience.”

Gueye’s first NBA action came in the 2023 Summer League when he averaged 9.6 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks per game over 24.1 minutes per contest in five appearances for the Hawks, another experience he savored and one he’d like to repeat.

“It was fun,” he said. “We had a good team but didn’t win, but we were really good. It was a great way to get my feet wet, understanding how it was going to be in the league. For sure, I want to do that (again this year).”

He attributes his stress fracture to the cumulative effects of travel and playing in 2023 – whether it was the college season at WSU, pre-draft workouts, summer league, etc. And even though he’s not yet returned to full health, that day is approaching. “Yeah (it was cumulative),” Gueye said. “Now, hopefully it’s taken care of, and we won’t ever hear about it again.”

When he made his NBA debut in late October, he became the 13th player from Senegal to play in the league. Maybe the most notable of his countrymen to reach the league is DeSagana Diop, who played 12 seasons with four teams and now coaches Senegal’s national team.

Along with Portland’s Idou Badji and Toronto’s Mouhamadou Gueye, who was born in New York City but has Senagelse parents, he’s one of three current NBA players with roots in the African nation.

“Yeah, there’s been a couple of us. I talk to him (Diop) often,” Gueye said. “When he won the G-League Showcase, I sent him congratulations. He’s my guy.”

Gueye might have missed much of the season with his back issue, but since he still travels with the Hawks, that hasn’t exempted him from his required rookie rites of passage.

“My rookie duties are the cookies,” he said. “I have to bring them to the plane every time we travel. Besides that, we’ve got really great vets that take great care of us and don’t make us do too much.”

Stephen Hunt is a freelance writer based in Frisco, Texas.