Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

In first collegiate season, Jayden Ndjigue emerges as UMass’ ‘glue guy’

Ndjigue earns starting spot right away
Kalina Kornacki
Daily Collegian (2023)

A winner. That’s the term most often used to describe Jayden Ndjigue.

Despite being a freshman, Ndjigue has been a pleasant surprise and a crucial starter for the Massachusetts men’s basketball team, making an instant impact in every area of the game. At Six-foot-four-inches, he has the size and versatility to play across the lineup and has essentially forced UMass (4-1) head coach Frank Martin to keep him on the court.

After the Minutemen’s 66-56 win over South Florida, Ndjigue was the only player Martin praised in his opening statement to the media. He finished the game with seven points on 3-of-4 shooting, eight rebounds, two assists, two steals and two blocks.

“I don’t choose [starters],” Martin said. “They earn it. I play guys and put them with rotations and people where they earn the respect to get on the court … with their daily approach. Who you see is who [Ndjigue] is every day. Everyday, relentless effort, great hands, defensively makes plays, rebounds the ball, plays with incredible toughness. He’s got to get a little smarter with [reaching].”

“He lets you coach him. Like when he makes a mistake that he knows is not right and I yak at him it doesn’t hurt his feelings. He actually says, ‘you know what, you’re right. Let me get this thing done the right way.’ And he goes off and does it the right way and that’s why players respect him. That’s why he helps our team win.”

So far this season, Ndjigue has consistently stuffed the stat sheet, but as Martin pointed out, the numbers don’t do justice to the impact that he has on the result of games.

“He impacts winning,” Martin said. “Some people don’t want responsibility; [Ndjigue] wants more responsibility, and he works to earn your trust to get it. He impacts winning, and people who impact winning, you trust them.”

He’s averaging five points, five rebounds – including two offensive a game – 2.4 assists, and 1.6 steals per game. He doesn’t take many shots, but makes them at a 70 percent rate from the floor and 75 percent from 3. Ndjigue is this team’s ultimate “glue guy.”

Ndjigue’s most productive game of the year up to this point came in the win against Quinnipiac, where he dropped 10 points on 4-for-5 shooting along with six rebounds, three assists and three steals.

“I mean, I haven’t seen a more of a mature young man than [Ndjigue],” UMass forward Josh Cohen said. “He coaches me up on the sidelines. I’m looking at him like, ‘Dude, I’m four years older than you,’ you know. We call him a pitbull. He’s just tough, tough as nails. He plays as hard as he can and he communicates with the whole team and he makes winning plays.”

Ndjigue picked up his third foul early in the second half, but played through it and had an impactful run that lasted about three minutes late in the game: he hit a jumper, then grabbed an offensive rebound and dished out an assist in the same possession, later hitting another jumper and finishing out with a defensive rebound and a block. This run helped increase UMass’ lead from seven to 14.

“What more could you ask for from just like an 18 or 19-year-old kid?” Cohen said. “I mean, he’s been phenomenal so far.”

Chris Youngblood, the Bulls’ (2-4) leading scorer, averages 13.8 points per game this season. Like the rest of his team, Youngblood had a rough outing, finishing with four points on 1-of-13 shooting.

“You know who started defending [Youngblood] to start the game?” Martin asked. It was Ndjigue. “That’s why he got the assignment, because he’s rock solid. And he understands at such a young age scouting reports and disciplines.”

Despite being one of seven freshmen in the squad, Ndjigue is who Martin has trusted to take over a starting spot since the first game of the season.

Pedro Gray Soares can be reached at [email protected] and followed on X/Twitter @P_GraySoares.

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