How far would you go to try to make a dream come true?
Would you hop a 14-hour flight from your native land to a foreign country where you didn’t speak a single word of the language?
Would you leave behind your family and friends when you were barely old enough to shave?
When you weren’t picked in the 2015 NBA Draft and your first preseason as an NBA free agent ended with a stress fracture, would you press on?
“I was not nervous when I left Senegal,’’ Ndour told MSGNetworks.com. “I was excited. I thought it was a great opportunity to learn to play the game that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.
“It was a long flight because I was so anxious to get there. I was excited. I didn’t know anything about Japan. I didn’t even know where it really was.’’
Timeout. Did Ndour say Japan? Yes, Japan.
Ndour had been spotted playing basketball in a local tournament near M’Bour, Senegal, where he was raised. Arrangements were made for him to travel to Japan and enroll in Okayama Gakugeikan High School.
The then 15-year-old Ndour boarded a flight in his native Senegal, made one stop in Paris and continued on to Japan, where a high school student holding up a sign that read ‘Ndour,’ met him at the airport.
Ndour didn’t know the Japanese word for hello (he would learn there are several depending on the time of day) and his one-student welcoming committee didn’t know French, Wolof or Serer, three of the five languages Ndour is now fluent in.
And so Ndour’s education in basketball and all things Japanese began. There were the obvious acclimations – food, language, customs and most of all, culture.
“I think people in Japan are some of the hardest-working people in the world,’’ Ndour said. “We practiced three, four hours a day. The work ethic was something I had to adjust to.’’
Adjust he did.
Three years later, fluent in Japanese and a two-time all-Okayama MVP honoree in 2009 and 2010, Ndour left Japan for the United States and JUCO power Monroe College. Ndour was a two-time All-Region selection.
That led to a scholarship offer at Ohio University where Ndour was a two-time all-second team MAC player after averaging 16.0 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game as a senior. It was a solid career, but second-team MAC players don’t hear their names called in the NBA Draft.
Then, Ndour signed with the Dallas Mavericks as a free agent, suffered a stress fracture after four preseason games and was waived. He played about a half a season for Real Madrid in Spain, a slightly shorter flight than to Japan, before the Knicks signed him last July.
With all due respect to the Okayama prep league, or the MAC, or his first 27 games with the Knick — in which he averaged less than 2.5 points per game — there was nothing to lead anyone to believe Ndour would do what he did Tuesday night in a 100-91 win over the Chicago Bulls.
Alan Hahn goes over Maurice Ndour's double-double in the Knicks' win over the Bulls.
Ndour scored a career-high 13 points and grabbed 12 rebounds. He shot 5-of-9 from the field and added two steals, one blocked shot and one assist.
“He was great the other night with his length and his athletic ability,’’ Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek said of the 6-foot-9, 200-pound forward. “He’s able to cover a lot of ground. I was really happy with the way he played the other night, the activity.’’
Ndour said he has no idea how many texts, phone calls, and messages he received on social media, congratulating him on his career night. But that wasn’t the highlight.
Ndour had his mother, Anne Marie Dione, in The Garden, watching her son for the first time as a professional.
“It was very humbling,’’ Ndour said. “All of my prayers, all of my mother’s prayers, my family; all of the hard work. It was a very good feeling.
“My mother would sing songs to me before I left the house. She did it the other day. I had so much joy knowing I had made her proud. I was proud.’’
Despite his arduous trek to that prideful moment, Ndour always believed he would experience such a night in professional basketball. He wasn’t certain it would happen in the NBA – Europe perhaps, but he never would have gotten on that plane nine years ago if he didn’t believe in himself.
Jeff Hornacek talks about the performance of Maurice Ndour after the Knicks' strong victory over the Bulls.
“He’s probably the most athletic guy on the team,’’ Hornacek said. “So we need him to do that, use his length. That full out effort, that’s what we think he can do.’’
In Thursday night’s loss to the Wizards, Ndour didn’t come close to duplicating his career night. He scored three points on 1-for-5 shooting with five rebounds, two assists and one steal in 21 minutes.
“Getting to this point is only the first step, the first achievement,’’ Ndour said. “I need to become a consistent player. I need to be able to play as I did the other night, every night so my teammates know they can count on me.
“But I believe it will come. I know some people question why we care about these games when we will not be in the playoffs. Everyone in this locker room still wants to win.
“For me, this is an opportunity. I am so blessed to have this. It is part of the journey that began a long time ago.’’