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Get to know Thunder rookie Ousmane Dieng: 'I want to be a champion. I want to be an MVP.'

(Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

NEW YORK — France’s Ousmane Dieng, a 6’10” ball-handler, is arguably the top prospect in this class who played overseas last season.

Dieng is projected at No. 8 overall to the New Orleans Pelicans in recent mock drafts from The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie and ESPN’s Jonathan Givony. According to Givony, Dieng “wowed New Orleans in a private workout in Miami several weeks ago” and could be an intriguing developmental project for the team.

Having only recently turned 19 years old, he already has an impressive resume. Alongside big man Victor Wembanyama, the projected top pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, Dieng helped lead France’s squad to take home the silver medal at FIBA’s U16 European Championship.

Dieng, who also has experience playing lower-tier basketball in France, left his home country and signed to the Next Stars program (a pipeline that has recently sent LaMelo Ball and Josh Giddey to the NBA) in Australia’s NBL.

Despite a slow start to the season while adjusting to the high level of play, Dieng turned on the jets down the stretch. He had multiple 20-point scoring outbursts — recording 22 points with 6 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 blocks, and 2 steals against the South East Melbourne Phoenix on April 10.

With his blend of size and on-ball ability, scouts are rightfully intrigued. When including passes, per Synergy, Dieng finished more than one-third of his half-court possessions as the ball-handler in pick and roll sets. Dieng also averaged 1.39 points per possession facing single-coverage in isolation. That was the most efficient mark among all players in the NBL who had at least 15 attempts.

Dieng struggled when shooting off the catch, and he had some limitations guarding the perimeter and the point of attack. However, there is a reason why respected analysts like The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor and NBA Big Board’s Rafael Barlowe feature Dieng in their personal top-10 rankings.

During a recent conversation with Dieng on Zoom and then an in-person follow-up in New York City before the 2022 NBA Draft, we got to know the promising young talent.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

What will you provide to an NBA team at the next level?

(Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

Dieng: I’m pretty versatile. I’ll be able to do whatever the coach wants me to do. I’m a big guard so I can do everything on the floor — defense, driving, shooting, everything. I’m 6’10.5” with shoes and I have a 7’1” wingspan. I’m adding muscle.

How are you able to use your length and skill set when you’re on the floor?

(Photo by Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)

Dieng: Guarding multiple positions is going to be one of my biggest strengths in the NBA. I can be a defensive threat. You earn your minutes by playing defense. I can use my length on defense to guard people bigger than me. Guarding smaller people, I can stay a little bit farther from them.

On offense, I can use it to finish at the rim and I can shoot over people, too. I’m young, but I can see myself playing on the wing and as a secondary ball-handler. I love to play with the ball in my hands. When I was really young, I was bringing the ball up the floor. I have good court vision and passing ability. I played point guard when I was young. I’m used to playing with the ball in my hands. I’m a hard worker. I’ll do whatever the coach wants me to do. I will bring energy and give everything I have every day.

How did you first fall in love with the game of basketball?

(Photo by Mark Brake/Getty Images)

Dieng: My dad was playing basketball. I was always in the gym with him, watching his games. I just started playing really young and I fell in love with the sport. I played a little bit of soccer, but basketball was always my favorite. I started watching the NBA with Kobe. I watched a lot of Kobe. I watched a lot of Kevin Durant. I watched a lot of Paul George. I’m taking parts of the game from Luka, KD, Brandon Ingram. I want to be an NBA All-Star. I want to be a champion.  I want to be an MVP. This is all a dream come true.

When did you realize you would be able to become a professional player?

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Dieng: I realized I wanted to be a pro basketball player when I was 13 years old and I left my home to pursue basketball. I realized I could be a pro when I was 15 after the European championships. That was a great experience. It was my first time on the national team. We finished second.

How much do you think it helped your game to play against other pros in Australia?

(Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

Dieng: It was difficult at first. Australia is really far from France. But it made me grow as a man. I’m more mature and more mentally strong. It helped me a lot. I was the youngest player in the league. I had to earn my minutes. I had to earn my position with the team. I was a hard worker. With grown men and pros, everything is faster and quicker. It was more physical. The players are so good. I had to make decisions quickly. I progressed a lot. I needed to find my rhythm. I kept working and just focusing on what I needed to control. There were lots of bad things with COVID.

What has been your favorite part about your time in the United States so far?

Dieng: I was able to see my first NBA game. It was the playoffs. The arena was crazy. The noise was crazy. I had only been to the United States once before this year. Now, I’m in New York. New York is big! Times Square is crazy. I saw a woman doing gymnastics on the street.

What do you like to do when you’re not playing basketball?

(Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

Dieng: I like hanging out with my friends and listening to music. My favorites are Ninho in France and Lil Baby. I like playing video games. I play FIFA and NBA 2K.

Who are some of your biggest inspirations?

Dieng: My parents. They came with me for the last three months in Australia. That was really good. They are here for the NBA Draft.

I heard you recently got a new nickname. What is it?

Dieng: My nickname in France is Ous. When I came here, all the Americans called me Ouzi [pronounced like Lil Uzi Vert].

You recently told your agent that you are very funny in French. Is that true?

(Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

Dieng: Yes. They think I am not funny. But I only learned English on YouTube when I was 15.

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