Maurice Ndour was wearing a bright green Senegal shirt and bright smile as he talked about his special day that started with a very unexpected announcement at Tuesday’s shootaround.
The undrafted rookie forward couldn’t believe his ears when Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek told Ndour that he would be starting for the injured Kristaps Porzingis on Tuesday night against the Bulls.
“I was like, ‘Me? You’re sure? Me? I’m starting?’ ” Ndour said. “That was my first reaction, and then after that I had to focus. Coach believes in me and is giving me the opportunity, I can’t let him down, I can’t let my teammates down.”
In his first NBA start, Ndour, 24, had his first double-double in a 100-91 victory over the Bulls. He finished with 13 points, 12 rebounds, two blocks and two steals in 33 minutes.
“I didn’t expect that,” Ndour said. “Didn’t expect that at all.”
Ndour probably was not alone. But what made his smile grow wider and his face light up more was when he talked about a very special guest who was in the Garden to witness his breakout performance.
His mother flew in from Senegal on Sunday and attended her first NBA game Tuesday night. It was the first time she had seen Ndour play live in the United States. She hadn’t attended any of his games when he played at Ohio University.
For Ndour to have this type of performance, especially as his mother spent the day singing Bible verses for him, made it even more meaningful and memorable.
“Her constantly praying for me each and every day, even today she was just singing these songs and praying for me before I left the house,” Ndour said. “It was one of those special moments. I had joy. I had fun out there and I enjoyed myself playing, not only for the team but just for her to see me out there playing, it was amazing.”
Ndour isn’t a shooter or scorer. He’s more of an energy guy. Ndour is athletic, has long arms and focuses more on playing defense. But he’s raw, so his opportunities with the Knicks have been few and far between.
He spent 18 games in the D-League playing for the West chester Knicks. For the big team, he mostly played only in garbage time until recently. Overall, Ndour has appeared in 28 games with the Knicks and averaged 2.5 points and 1.8 rebounds.
Ndour likely will return to the bench if Porzingis can play Thursday against the Wizards, but he will still find minutes in the Knicks’ final four games.
With the Knicks out of the playoffs, Hornacek has been playing the younger players more lately. Ndour has played 12 minutes or more in four of the last six games after doing it four times in the Knicks’ first 72 games.
Ndour said he thought about everything he had been through this season after being subbed out in the third quarter.
“I was on the bench,” he said. “I was just reminiscing about going back and forth to the D-League, and coming back here and playing, a lot of ups and downs. Regardless of that, I just stayed the course and just played hard and just believed in myself and [told] myself the opportunity is going to come someday.”
Ndour was elated with what happened when that opportunity came.
“It was just the joy of just being out there, knowing you’re giving everything you have on the floor, and just trying to help your teammates every time that you can,” Ndour said. “It was just a good feeling that you know you contributed to something and we got the win, which was even greater.”