As a child, graduate forward Lena Niang dreamed of playing for the Senegal national basketball team.
Niang was born in Senegal and lived there until 2012. This summer, she played for the team in the International Basketball Federation Women’s Afrobasket.
“Overall it was a great experience,” Niang said. “It’s something I have wanted to do since I was little. I wish my parents were there to experience it with me.”
In four games, Niang recorded eight points and was one-for-three on three-point shots.
Niang believes playing on the national team helped her improve during the offseason, specifically her three-point shot, she said.
In the 2018-19 season, Niang averaged five points per game. She ranked third on the team with 36 converted threes and finished with a 33.6 percent conversion rate from three-point range, ranking second on the team.
“Shooting three-pointers is definitely the strongest part of my game, but I plan on getting even better this year,” Niang said.
This offseason, Coach Tonya Cardoza has been “harping” on Niang’s defense, which Niang has been working on, she said.
Niang finished fourth on the team last year with 12 blocks and recorded 11 total steals.
“Her hard work in the offseason is paying off and that is due to the amount of effort she puts in, she always works to be better,” assistant coach Willnett Crockett said.
The graduate forward’s improved defense will be a “welcomed asset” this season, Crockett added.
Niang hopes to finish her collegiate career with an NCAA Tournament appearance, and she is focused on her role as a shooter and defender, she said.
The Owls were unable to reach the NCAA Tournament last season after losing in the first round of The American Athletic Conference Tournament to Memphis 59-58.
Niang recorded eight points, two steals and one block in the game.
“This year being my last year, I hope we make the postseason,” Niang said. “I’m going to focus on bringing energy and playing good defense.”
The players respect Niang, and they will miss her presence after she graduates, junior forward Mia Davis said.
“Lena owns up to it when she makes mistakes and she’s not in denial about it,” Davis said. “In the next possession, she makes sure she doesn’t make the same mistake.”
When she graduates, Niang plans to continue playing for the Senegal national team. She will try to earn a spot on the roster if the team reaches the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, she said.
Niang also wants to open up her own restaurant and continue to play basketball overseas, she said.
“I would like to open my own business, whether it’s me having my own restaurant or running my own business international,” Niang said. “For now, I want to play basketball overseas, but hopefully I can manage to do both in the future.”