It only takes one look at Mohamed Bamba to tell he’s different. Basketball fans will be able to see it for themselves next season when the 7-foot center takes the floor for Texas.
Bamba ended college basketball’s longest and most speculated upon recruitment when he committed to the Longhorns over Duke, Kentucky and Michigan last week. It may seem odd for the No. 3 overall recruit in the country to choose a team that finished 11-22 and missed the NCAA tournament last season, but nothing about Bamba has ever been conventional.
What sets Bamba apart physically is an unparalleled combination of length and agility that seems ideal for the way basketball is trending at its highest levels. He’s also a thoughtful and articulate person who should grow into a great ambassador for the game.
If you don’t know Mo Bamba already, you will soon. Before he’s a top-five pick in the 2018 NBA draft, he’s about to be one of the most talked about players in college hoops.
He’s going to be the longest NBA player in history
The longest wingspan measurement in the DraftExpress database is held by Mamadou Ndiaye, the former UC-Irvine center who stood 7’6 with an 8’1 wingspan. Ndiaye went undrafted last season and has yet to play an NBA game.
That means Bamba will have the longest wingspan in league history when he inevitably reaches the NBA after one year at Texas. His most recent measurement at the 2017 Nike Hoop Summit had him at a 7'9 wingspan with a 9'6 standing reach. He has a half-inch in wingspan on Rudy Gobert and two inches on Shaquille O’Neal and Hassan Whiteside.
Bamba’s length at the rim is going to be an absolute problem for any level of competition. He averaged over four blocks per 40 minutes against national competition throughout his high school career (per DX) and should only get better as he gains strength. Big 12 opponents should consider themselves unlucky to get an early look at his developing rim protection next season.
Bamba has attended Sloan Sports Analytics Conference twice
What could possibly endear Bamba to the enlightened NBA fan community more than his decision to fly out to Daryl Morey’s Sloan Sports Analytics Conference the last two years?
Bamba has always been inquisitive. He seriously considered Harvard early in the recruiting process and took his time making his college decision because he wanted to have every piece of information possible. Those same traits led him to Sloan and produced this delightful scene:
“I learned a lot of different things on many different fronts. I learned about the game of basketball from an analytics view. We did an entire seminar with a panel on how to guard a pick-and-roll. I remember getting up and asking a question, ‘Does this translate to at all to the high school level?’ They didn’t really have an answer for it.
Imagine a 7-foot high schooler standing up to ask a question about defending the pick-and-roll to a bunch dumbfounded Ivy League guys. I wish we had video of this.
Bamba was back at the conference a few months ago and wrote about it in his USA Today diary:
Just before I went off to China, I attended the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference for a second year in a row. This year, I brought my sister so that she too could learn from all of the expert panels that have topics ranging from “Life of a College Student-Athlete” to “Sports Science and Player Tracking Data” and even “Silver asks Silver” (one of my favorites because I got to hear Adam Silver’s vision first-hand). I’ve always been interested in the experts who use numbers to back up a lot of their sports observations and there’s no shortage of it at this conference.
Speaking of China ....
Here’s a picture of Mo Bamba at the Great Wall of China
Bamba was in China as part of a community service project through Westtown High School earlier this year where he worked with migrant children, shoveled coal and helped run basketball clinics. He wrote about the trip in his USA Today diary and the entire thing sounds fascinating.
Bamba will have a future in the media if he wants one
The best idea of media day at the McDonald’s All-American Game was when DraftExpress let Bamba interview DeAndre Ayton and Chuck O’Bannon Jr. We would all be lucky to have a voice that sounds as cool as Mo Bamba’s.
This is what it’s like playing against Mo Bamba
There is perhaps no one better equipped to talk about Bamba than Ayton, one of only two players above him in the class of 2017 rankings (Mizzou-bound forward Michael Porter Jr. is the other). Like Bamba, Ayton is a center with long arms and quick feet, only Ayton has a better offensive repertoire and Bamba is considered a superior defensive prospect.
Ayton and Bamba have been matched up against each other for years both with their high school teams and grassroots teams. Here’s what Ayton told MLive about what it’s like to play against Bamba:
"It's his arms, man ... his arms," said Ayton, who's taking his No. 1 ranking to Arizona next year. "He will contest every shot. And trust me, he's going to block you. When I say he dominates the defensive end, it's crazy. Like, for me to not even go in the post and be out shooting jumpers? It's like -- that's what coaches want. He takes you out of your game. He's dominant."
We need an Ayton-Bamba matchup in the NCAA tournament.
- Bamba was born and raised in Harlem, but his family's roots trace back to Mali. He originally attended a boarding school in New Hampshire before transferring out to Westtown in Pennsylvania. Westtown -- which had been around 1799 — had never won a state title in any sport before Bamba came around. That changed quickly.
- With Bamba, Westtown won a state title the last two years. As a senior, Bamba averaged 14 points, 12 rebounds, and eight blocks per game while leading the Moose to a 32-2 record.
- Westtown wasn’t just the Mo Bamba show. It also had a top-50 recruit in Arizona-bound swingman Brandon Randolph and also wing Cameron Reddish, a top-five recruit in the class of 2018.
- Basketball runs in Bamba’s family. His brother Sidiki Johnson was a top-100 recruit out of the class of 2011 who committed to Arizona when Sean Miller first took the job in Tucson. He has another brother who played at the NAIA level.
- Another Bamba fun fact: he read and enjoyed “Indentured: The Inside Story of the Rebellion Against the NCAA” by Ben Strauss and Joe Nocera. Cool.
- I’d vote for him:
How good will Texas be with Bamba?
This is the big question. Don’t forget that Texas had a five-star recruit and one-and-done lottery pick starting at center last season in Jarrett Allen. The Longhorns still finished only 11-22 and were arguably the most disappointing team in the country.
Texas’ main problem last season was a lack of a true point guard, and that will change next year. Matt Coleman is a high four-star recruit from the basketball factory that is Oak Hill Academy and he could be a one-day starter. Coleman was just below the McDonald’s All-American level and is considered one of the top point guards in the class.
Texas is also getting Andrew Jones back for his sophomore season. He could have a breakout campaign at off-guard after showing signs of coming into his own late last season. There’s also Eric Davis Jr. and Kerwin Roach Jr., a pair of junior guards from Shaka Smart’s first recruiting class in Austin, who should be ready to raise the level of their play.
Bamba projects as an elite-level, instant impact defender in Smart’s defensive scheme because of his length and mobility. Davis and Roach also get after it defensively. Coleman should be the true point guard Texas lacked last season and Jones projects as the go-to scorer. You can talk yourself into this Texas team, but the memory of last season is still hard to shake.
In the end, there will be a lot of pressure on Smart and the Longhorns not to waste their year with Bamba. A prospect like this doesn’t come around often.