Billy Bryson initially brushed aside the rumor he heard from his teammate, Dakota Warren.
Then Bryson saw Mamadou Ndiaye up close, touring Brethren Christian Senior High last winter.
"I was just in awe -- just amazed," Bryson, 18, said. "I couldn't believe it."
Ndiaye has elicited the same reaction while taking the court for Brethren this season.
His wingspan is more than 8 feet long. Ndiaye's uniform and shoes (size 19 1/2) had to be special ordered. Without shoes, he is 7-5, 310, and that is not an inflated high school statistic.
"I measured him myself," Brethren coach Jon Bahnsen said. "He's a legitimate 7-5 -- actually just barely over 7-5."
To put his size in perspective, the 18-year-old junior is taller than any current NBA player. (Hasheem Thabeet at 7-3, 267 comes closest.)
Mobile for his frame, the Senegal native has taken the Academy League by storm. For the 17-5 Warriors he averages 23.2 points, 13.3 rebounds and 4.9 blocks. Because of his length, those blocks include swatting 15-foot jump shots while he is stationed near the basket.
"We've played big kids before, but this is ... different," Laguna Beach (Calif.) High coach Bret Fleming said. "It looks like a dad playing with a bunch of little kids."
When Ndiaye comes to midcourt for the opening tip, it often evokes laughter from the crowd as he dwarfs the opposing big man. Now even mid-week games at the school's Liberty Christian gymnasium are packed.
Colleges have started flock to Brethren.
"Everybody is intrigued," Bahnsen said.
Although Ndiaye is far from considering any specific colleges, USC, Purdue, Georgia, UC-Santa Barbara and some junior colleges and NAIA schools have expressed strong interest.
Indeed Ndiaye is just beginning his basketball journey.
"He will play professionally," Bahnsen said. "He has potential with the NBA."
Ndiaye has loads of potential.
A soccer player as a youth, he played basketball in Senegal for just a year or two before Stoneridge (Calif.) Preparatory School, a private institution that specializes in finding international talent, located him.
Ndiaye, who received a student visa, played at Stoneridge during the first semester of his sophomore season before a pituitary gland tumor sidelined him.
The golfball-sized tumor pinched his optic nerve and left untreated likely would have blinded him.
While undergoing two surgeries at Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian, he met Lori Berberet, a Hoag registered nurse, who became his guardian along with Elliot Skolnick.
Ndiaye, Berberet and Skolnick declined interview requests, and Bahnsen only answered basketball-related questions. By all accounts Ndiaye is a humble, guarded kid somewhat embarrassed by the attention.
Deemed healthy and able to play competitive basketball, Ndiaye transferred from Stoneridge to Brethren for the second semester of his sophomore year to be closer to his guardians.
"We loved him," said Maria Arnold, Stoneridge's principal and owner. "He's a super kid, loving, dedicated. He's very thankful for what we've done."
Following Ndiaye's operations, the California Interscholastic Foundation (CIF) cleared him to play this season despite the transfer because he qualified for a medical hardship waiver.
Stoneridge had seemed like a logical place for Ndiaye to develop. Basketball players at the 32-person school, which Arnold founded in 1965, have hailed from countries, including France, Mali, Senegal, Serbia and Tunisia. Its notable alumni include Enes Kanter and Taj Gibson.
While Stoneridge faces national powerhouses like Oak Hill (Va.) Academy, Brethren plays in California's third-smallest class.
Despite the difference in basketball competition, Ndiaye's new environs have become comfortable.
"When he first came here, more people were like in shock," Bryson said. "Now he's just another kid at school."
High schoolers taller than seven feet are often thin as a nail or awkwardly immobile. Ndiaye is neither.
Last summer an opposing team pressed Brethren but left Ndiaye open at halfcourt. With his long stride, Ndiaye took two dribbles and already was dunking the basketball.
"For his size I would say his athleticism is pretty incredible," Bahnsen said. "He can get down the floor pretty well."
A workout fanatic, he bench presses more than 250 pounds and power cleans more than 200. Those are impressive totals, considering his long frame. Ndiaye also can do as many pull-ups as anyone on the team.
"He loves the weight room," Bahnsen said. "He's got a very a good work ethic."
Because of his size and strength, Ndiaye is an immovable force in the post through which Brethren runs its basic triangle offense.
"He basically does not leave the block," Bahnsen said.
Ndiaye possesses good hands -- one of the most essential qualities for a big man. Most of his points come off dunks and many off inbound sets.
During a Dec. 2 game, Laguna Beach fronted him with another defender playing him from behind. It also tried to harass Brethren's ballhanders to prevent Ndiaye from receiving touches.
That strategy was somewhat effective as Laguna won, 60-51, but Ndiaye still scored 27 points on 13 of 17 shooting and had 12 rebounds and four blocks.
Defensively, Brethren wisely employs a zone. The team relentlessly pressures and traps on the perimeter, knowing it has Ndiaye anchored in the post as the last line of defense, "daring the other team to funnel the ball to him," Bahnsen said.
"He either rushes shots or blocks shots or forces bad shots, and we go from there."
Ndiaye needs to improve his post moves, passing skills and particularly his conditioning. He quickly became gassed when Laguna emphasized its transition game.
But what Ndiaye lacks in the fast break, he compensates for with his intimidating presence.
Just ask the Crean Lutheran (Calif.) High squad, which lost to Brethren, 66-51, and will face it again before season's end.
"(We) were a little nervous," Crean coach Dan Fink said. "They saw this big guy, and they thought they had to adjust their shot."
Ndiaye had 24 points, 19 rebounds and four blocks against Crean.
Laguna also faced him twice, including during the fall league and then in the Godinez Tournament. To relax his players, Fleming promised to buy In-N-Out burgers for anyone who dunked on him.
Fleming, of course, did not have to spring for any Double-Doubles with onions.
Ndiaye may have a hulking presence, but he has the clichéd soft interior of a gentle giant. He cracks up his teammates by dancing in the locker room before games.
"He just jumps around," Bryson said, "and acts like a big goofball."
Multiple colleges, though, are courting him, hoping he chooses them as his next dance partner.
In addition to his other skills, Ndiaye has the one undeniable quality that basketball coaches covet above all else.
"You can't teach size," Fleming said.
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