Before center Astou Ndour left the Sky last month to join Spain’s national team for the EuroBasket tournament, coach James Wade gave her some advice.
‘‘Go just do what you know and play simple basketball,’’ Ndour remembered Wade telling her.
Ndour took Wade’s words to heart and went on to be named the MVP of the tournament after she helped Spain win the championship.
Ndour and Wade have a unique connection that’s more than five years in the making.
Wade first spotted Ndour playing basketball in Spain before the 2014 WNBA Draft, when he was an assistant for the Stars, who were playing in San Antonio at the time. Though she was raw, Wade marveled at Ndour’s length and skill.
‘‘[She] was somebody I thought could turn into a good WNBA player,’’ Wade said.
Wade persuaded Stars coach Dan Hughes to select Ndour 16th overall in that draft.
The language barrier for international athletes coming to the United States can be daunting. Liberty rookie Han Xu is experiencing that this season because she’s not quite fluent in English.
Ndour can relate to what Xu is going through. When she arrived in San Antonio in the spring of 2014, Ndour, who is Spanish and Senegalese, said she wasn’t yet confident in her English.
Luckily for her, Wade is trilingual (English, French, Spanish). He made her feel welcome by speaking with her in French.
Ndour’s English has improved during her four seasons in the WNBA. (She didn’t play in the league in 2015 and 2017.) But Wade still speaks French to Ndour when they’re one-on-one.
‘‘We speak French because its easier,’’ Wade said.
Ndour agreed, saying it helps her understand more quickly and clearly what Wade wants her to do, especially as she readjusts to the WNBA after being away for more than a month.
The WNBA is a different style of play and pace than EuroBasket. But Ndour said Wade has been encouraging her as she works her way back into the Sky’s rotation. She said she always goes back to his original advice: ‘‘Keep it simple.’’
‘‘I just need to go slowly and not feel rushed or nervous,’’ Ndour said.
In the three games she has played in since returning to the Sky this month, Ndour has five points and four rebounds. That’s a good base for the 6-4 Ndour, who adds length and athleticism to the Sky’s frontcourt, Wade said.
‘‘We’re happy to have her, and we’re adding her into what we’re doing,’’ Wade said. ‘‘We have a really good coaching staff, and they work hard with the players every day, every morning, on individual things that make [Ndour] better.’’
Wade also said Ndour is in a better spot now than she was at the start of the season because of her overseas success.
‘‘Her coming back, she’ll be coming back in rhythm,’’ Wade said. ‘‘The challenging part is playing our sets and getting used to the players we have. But her being into rhythm, where she has shot credibility and she’s able to make shots and plays at the rim, that’s going to give us an added player that we need. It’s big.’’
Ndour said she thinks she has improved greatly in practice during the last week. She said she’s getting more comfortable and confident in her abilities.
‘‘It’s good I’m here,’’ she said. ’’I’m doing my best in practice and waiting for my opportunity to play.’’