DeSagana Diop (Pronounced: Suh-GAH-nah JOP) (also known as simply Gana Diop) (born January 30, 1982 in Dakar) is a Senegalese professional basketball player who normally plays backup center for the Dallas Mavericks. The seven-feet (213 cm), 280 lb (127 kg) Diop's natural position is center.
After he began practicing basketball at the age of 15, Diop succeeded in averaging 14.6 points, 13.2 rebounds, and 8.0 blocks during his senior high school season earning the USA Today Virginia Player of the Year title and leading Oak Hill Academy to a #1 nation ranking (33 wins, 0 losses). He lists his favorite players as Hakeem Olajuwon, and former L.A. Clippers center Torgeir Bryn.
He was originally drafted directly out of Oak Hill Academy in Mouth of Wilson, Virginia by the Cleveland Cavaliers with the 8th overall pick of the 2001 NBA Draft. He played 193 games in four seasons with the Cavs, nearly all as a backup, averaging 1.6 points, 2.6 rebounds and 0.8 blocks in 10.8 minutes per contest. Due to conditioning and weight problems along with recurrent injuries, Diop never met the expectations of the Cavaliers or their fans.
He was signed by the Dallas Mavericks as a free agent on August 19, 2005 to a three-year contract. Although many Mavs fans were skeptical, Diop has been a positive surprise. He established himself as a defensive stalwart and potent rebounder, providing relief for Erick Dampier as a center. After December 31, 2005, he started most of the games for the Mavs during the 2005-2006 season. Diop's average minutes per game has risen to almost 18, and he is now currently seen as a good role player. Against the New York Knicks in a pre-season game, Diop hit the game-winning tip-in of a missed shot by Keith Van Horn. Against the Denver Nuggets in November, he registered 16 rebounds with a career-high 6 blocks - including a denial of Carmelo Anthony's potentially game-winning field goal attempt.
Although the 2005-2006 season was clearly a breakthrough for Diop, he continues to work hard. In an interview with a Dallas paper he said that his main focus for the summer will be "post moves and conditioning."
Diop's defense is applauded around the league; for the 05-06 season, he ranked 11th in total blocks, 14th in blocks per game, and 2nd in blocks per 48 minutes.
Diop is primarily a defensive specialist. He's an excellent shotblocker (is among the top 3 in blocks per-48 minutes) because of his large wingspan, and is athletic and mobile enough to cover quicker big men. While he currently has little offensive game, he has a good 15-foot jumpshot which he rarely uses and is known to throw a dunk or two. In addition, he tries hard and is rarely seen tired while on the floor, even if his foul-proneness still limits his playing time.
His work ethic and improved rebounding and shot-blocking ability inspired Dallas Mavericks coach Avery Johnson to start him over the more experienced Erick Dampier. The Mavs went on to win 13-straight games after the change. Prior to this, Diop had a reputation of being overweight and lazy during his four unsuccessful years in Cleveland. After joining the Mavericks, he lost a significant amount of weight and made the jump from being a scrub player on a mediocre team to a starter on a championship-caliber one.
In Game 7 of the 2006 playoff matchup between San Antonio and Dallas, Diop was called the "unsung hero" of the game after grabbing two significant offensive rebounds and playing solid defense on Tim Duncan in the 4th quarter and overtime with a broken nose. He also scored on an important dunk in OT, which helped Dallas to a 4 point lead and they would never look back.