Q&A with Assane Sene
The Virginia men’s basketball team is coming off an 87-79 victory at No. 15 Minnesota on Monday (Nov. 29). The Cavaliers end a stretch of six consecutive games away from home on Sunday (Dec. 5) at 6 p.m. when they play their first Atlantic Coast Conference game of the season at Virginia Tech. The game will be televised by Fox Sports Net. Junior center Assane Sene played a significant role in UVa’s victory at Minnesota, with season-high totals of seven points and six rebounds. VirginiaSports.com talked to Sene after the Cavaliers’ win over the Golden Gophers.
Question: What was your mindset when you entered the Minnesota game Monday night after Will Sherrill was injured?
Sene: Every time I know I will play against big guys I will study them. I think about what they can do. What are their weaknesses or what do they do well. I wanted to step up. It was a big chance for me to show exactly what I can do. I stepped on the court and I’m like ‘I’m just going to feel free, have fun, play hard, be aggressive and be more active in the paint.’ I felt I was more mobile than the Minnesota players. It was a really big chance for me. I just wanted to show my presence on both defense and offense. That’s what I had in my mind.
Question: What does a win like the one Monday night mean to the team?
Sene: That means a lot for us. It will give us more motivation. We learned a lot from the games in Maui. We lost two games in Maui and it wasn’t good for our record, but it was good for us basketball wise because it will help us be ready for other teams. At the same time it helped us to be ready as a team. Before the game (with Minnesota) everyone was saying we have to bring the same intensity we had in Maui when we played against Oklahoma and Wichita State. We brought that Monday night and just played hard. That’s why the win was really good for us. We have a lot of good teams that we’ll be playing and we need to be ready for them also. We have to keep playing hard, communicate a lot on defense, get back on defense and rebound.
Question: You made a significant contribution to the victory over Minnesota. What does that mean to you?
Sene: It means a lot to me. I was really proud of myself. It’s hard when you work hard and you don’t see the results right away. The first games I played, but I wasn’t really satisfied the way I played. I just kept my head up and Coach Bennett told me the same, he told me ‘it’s not easy, I know it’s hard, but you just have to keep going and keep your head up and just know it will show some day.’ That’s what I’ve got on my mind, to just keep working hard.
Question: Coach Bennett has talked about how hard you worked during the summer. What did you do in preparation for this season?
Sene: I’m a junior right now. So I don’t have any more time to waste. I just don’t want to wait until the end, my senior year or after my senior year to work hard to try to go somewhere. This is the small time that I have and I’m going to use it. That’s the reason why I was working really hard in the summer. I was working on my hands, working on my strength and everything. I was working on everything.
Question: The assumption is there was a lot of work in the weight room. How did Coach Curtis (strength and conditioning coach Mike Curtis) help you get ready for this season?
Sene: Coach Curtis is one of the best. I can see my body has changed. The way I run or even the way I jump. Everything has changed right now because of him. I was working hard with him doing some extra work and I’m going to keep doing it. I’m not going to stop because I had a good game. He really prepared me, he really helped me a lot.”
Question: One of the things you’ve done is catch footballs. How has that helped from a basketball standpoint?
Sene: It helps a lot. If you can’t catch a basketball or a soccer ball, you can’t catch a football or a rugby ball. I’ve been working on my hands and it helps your hands a lot, to be stronger. You will also be really focused on the ball and you will know where the ball is going to go. There is a workout that I do with Coach Williford and Coach Sanchez. Sometimes it looks really funny, a seven-foot tall guy running on the basketball court trying to catch a football, but it really helps. I am going to keep doing all of this because I know it’s really helping me right now.
Question: Any chance we’ll see you on the field at Scott Stadium?
Sene: Well I don’t know. They have a really good wide receiver, but if Coach London wants an extra one I’m ready. Now I love the game. I love football. Jontel (Evans) and Mike Scott have been teaching me the game. Now you come in my room sometimes and I’m watching football. That’s something I’ve never done before.
Question: I know you’ve been trying to gain weight. How is that effort going?
Sene: It’s going well so far. I just keep eating. It’s not easy for me, but it will help me from a basketball standpoint.
Question: Against Minnesota you made 7 of 8 free throw attempts. Entering that game you were shooting under 50 percent for your career, but through seven games this season you have made 12 of 15 free throws. Was free throw shooting or shooting in general a particular focus for you during the summer?
Sene: I’m a lefty and Coach Bennett knows all of the lefties can shoot. We saw Mustapha Farrakhan Monday night. The reason my free throw percentage was bad my freshman year was because of the injury that I had and the brace I was wearing on my hand. It really affected my shot. I remember in high school I could really shoot the ball. If you left me open I was going to knock it down. That was the first thing I learned about playing basketball. The first thing I learned was shooting, before I even dribbled the ball. Shooting was the easiest thing. You keep doing it and it got easier. I’m a good shooter, I’m not going to say a really, really good shooter, but I can shoot the ball. If you leave me open I can make the shot.
I was working on my shot in the summer. We were all were working on our shots, including free throws. Coach also makes us shoot free throws before practice. That helps everybody on the team. Sometimes Coach says keep shooting until you miss or has us shoot free throws while we’re tired. Those are things that really help the players improve their shots.
Question: The team finishes a stretch of six consecutive games away from Charlottesville on Sunday at Virginia Tech. Has the time on the road helped the team?
Sene: Sometimes it’s good for us to play away from home, especially against good teams. That’s when we can see exactly what we can really do. We’re going to be back home soon. We just need to be ready for the Virginia Tech game.