The top uncommitted prospect in the 2017 class won’t be playing for one of college basketball’s blue bloods next season.
Mohamed Bamba instead will forge his own path, spurning offers from Duke and Kentucky in favor of a program coming off a 22-loss campaign.
In an essay published by the Player’s Tribune on Thursday morning, Bamba announced he will attend Texas. The 6-foot-11 center cited Texas’ business school and strength and conditioning program as big factors in his decision, but the main he reason he chose the Longhorns was the strong bond he forged with coach Shaka Smart last summer in Chile when he played for him on the U.S. U-18 team.
“Coach Smart may not have been aware of it, but I put him through a weeklong job interview,” Bamba said. “We instantly formed a bond. Now, the tables have turned, and I’m the one interviewing with him, hoping to show I can play a major role in his team’s success next season.
“His attention to detail is truly unbelievable — I can’t tell you how many times he picked up on something I mentioned in passing and brought it back full circle several months later. I’ve seen firsthand how much he genuinely cares about me and my family and how he’s going to challenge me to be in a state of continuous improvement.”
The addition of Bamba gives Texas an excellent chance to return to national prominence next season after Smart’s second year in Austin fell short of expectations. Lacking both a true point guard and sufficient outside shooting, the Longhorns (11-22, 4-14) plummeted out of NCAA tournament contention by midseason and finished last in the Big 12.
Bamba will be the centerpiece of a top-five 2017 recruiting class that should provide many of the ingredients Texas lacked a year ago.
While Bamba has a solid post-up game, good touch around the rim and the ability to knock down an occasional mid-range jumper, it’s his defensive potential that is especially tantalizing. He has nimble footwork and a massive 7-foot-9 wingspan, both of which should help him emerge as one of college basketball’s top shot blockers next season.
Bamba will immediately step into the Texas starting lineup in place of last year’s leading scorer and rebounder Jarrett Allen, who left for the NBA draft. He should be frightening as the last line of resistance in Smart’s trademark defense, giving the Longhorns’ perimeter players the luxury of denying passing lanes and playing aggressive man-to-man.
Fellow freshman Matt Coleman also has a good chance to start right away, providing the Longhorns with the true point guard they lacked last year. Texas also won’t lack for wing talent, especially if combo guard Andrew Jones withdraws from the NBA draft before the May 24 deadline. The only question would be if Jones, Kerwin Roach and Eric Davis can hit enough outside shots.
Regardless, look for Texas to take a big leap next season and prove that last year’s struggles were more of a fluke than the start of a disturbing trend.
The Longhorns probably would have improved even without Bamba. Now they have a chance to go from the Big 12’s basement to its upper echelon.
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