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THE BAMBA: Mohamed Bamba’s mind is as bright as his hoops future

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LOS ANGELES — Fresh off of the gold medal he won in the U18 FIBA Americas tournament in Chile, Mohamed Bamba returned to the states and headed almost directly to Los Angeles to attend the Nike Skills Academy.

Attend. Not participate, at least not during the first day and a half of the camp.

He wasn’t alone in this decision. His USA Basketball teammates Michael Porter Jr., Trae Young and Hamidou Diallo also sat out parts or all of the first day. They had gone from Peach Jam in Augusta to the national team training camp in Houston to Chile, where they played five games in five days. A day off on the first Monday after the end of the July Live Period is almost necessary with the schedule that some of the nation’s elite high school prospects play.

But Bamba’s decision wasn’t strictly based on trying to catch up on rest.

He had left his soles in Valdivia.

“I have flat feet,” Bamba told NBCSports.com on Tuesday as he launched into the saga of his shoes, and because of those flat feet — and an ankle injury he suffered in the spring — the 7-foot Bamba has to wear specially made inserts in the sole of his shoes when he plays. When you’re that tall and your feet are that big, you’re not exactly buying those inserts off the rack.

During the tournament in Chile, Bamba became something of a sensation because his last name happens to be the name of a Mexican folk song, ‘La Bamba,’ made internationally famous by Richie Valens. The fans would go crazy every time he made a play. They made signs for him. They tabbed him as a third-party candidate for the people that don’t want to see Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump in the White House.

Bamba loved it, so much so that, when the tournament ended, he gave his shoes — soles and all — to a young Chilean boy who had become his biggest fan.

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It wasn’t until he got back to the hotel that he realized his mistake. He was able to track the kid down on social media and got one of the soles back that night, but the other shoe had been taken by someone else. By the time they found that person, it was too late. Bamba was going to have to wait to get his soles shipped back to him in the States. He won’t get them until he’s home in New York, which means that his time on the courts in a modified airplane hangar at the Hawthorne Airport was dictated by how effectively the training staff could replicate his soles with athletic tape.

All because he got excited and gave his shoes to a fan.

It was a pretty dumb thing to do for a kid who is decidedly not dumb.

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Mohamed Bamba is among the elite of the elite in the Class of 2017. He’s a consensus top four prospect in the class, a kid that has a very real chance to be the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. He’s no where near a finished product yet, but his ability to change the game on the defensive end of the floor is special.

“He’s a dinosaur, man,” is how one coach of a top-25 program described Bamba, and it’s a pretty apt comparison. He’s 7-foot in shoes and soles with a wingspan that has been measured at 7-foot-9.5 and a standing reach of 9-foot-6. Those numbers are unheard of, and given his knack for blocking and changing shots at the rim, it’s not hard to look at him and see a guy that can one day influence a game the same way Rudy Gobert or Hassan Whiteside can defensively.

The offensive end of the floor is where Bamba is still very much a work in progress. His post game is somewhere between ineffective and developing, but that will come as the 210-pound Bamba adds some weight and strength. He’s not a guy that you want shooting a lot of jumpers, but his stroke and soft touch are impressive enough that it’s fairly easy to project him as a guy that will consistently make perimeter shots one day. He’s not as fluid or as mobile as some of the more offensive-minded bigs you’ll come across, but he’s not uncoordinated, either.

He’s never going to be Karl Towns or Anthony Davis, but if his ceiling is Rudy Gobert with a jump shot, that’s something that will make him very attractive to a lot of NBA teams.

Bamba knows this.

He also knows, like the rest of the basketball-watching world, that the salaries NBA players are getting these days are massive. It’s very much within the realm of possibility that Bamba could earn nine figures in NBA paychecks by the time it’s all said and done. Bamba’s smart — there’s a reason that Duke and Harvard (yes, Harvard) are two of the schools that are highest on the list of schools chasing him — smart enough to know what he doesn’t know, including the ins and outs of the NBA salary cap and salary structures. Why is every max contract worth a different amount of money? Why was it a popular refrain to say that Kevin Durant left money on the table when he signed with the Golden State Warriors?

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FIBA

And that’s why Bamba ponied up the money to head to Boston and attend the MIT Sloan Analytics Conference, a weekend-long festival of sports nerds that are interested in things beyond how many points someone scored in a game. Bamba attended a presentation breaking down the best way to defend pick-and-rolls, sat in on a session analyzing how an NBA front office works and, fittingly enough, learned about predictive injury analytics and injury prevention.

“I had never thought about efficiency before,” Bamba said. “In high school it’s about how many points you score, not how many shots it takes or possessions it takes.”

‘Student-athlete’ is something of a tongue-in-cheek term in this day and age given the inherent unfairness of amateurism in the NCAA, but Bamba is as much a student as he is an athlete. He’s got an inquisitive nature, a desire to learn. His trip to MIT started as a joke about him being a dork, but once he found out what it was he became intrigued. So he went. He’s been studying up on speeches that he attended in the months since he left Boston, learning more and more about NBA contracts and how players can manage their money. “If you’re going to be an multi-million dollar investment, you should know why and how it works,” he said.

He’s in business and marketing classes at the Westtown School now, and he says that regardless of how long it takes him to declare for the NBA Draft, he will be getting his degree. But when asked by a reporter if he’s preparing himself, on the chance that he goes one-and-done, to test out of intro classes and take more advanced courses as a freshman, Bamba admitted it was the rare topic he had no knowledge of.

“I’ve never thought about that,” he said.

“But I’m going to look into it now.”

Mohamed Bamba, Jon Lopez/Nike
Mohamed Bamba, USA Basketball

NCAA makes Johnny Juzang eligible at UCLA for next season

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LOS ANGELES — Kentucky transfer Johnny Juzang can play basketball for UCLA this winter.

The NCAA on Wednesday approved a transfer waiver of the year in residence requirement, which typically forces a transfer to sit out one season before becoming eligible. As a result, Juzang is eligible to play what will be his sophomore season in 2020-21.

“We’ve very excited that Johnny will be able to play for us next season,” coach Mick Cronin said. “Johnny is a talented player who can definitely make an impact for us.”

Juzang started two of 28 games for Kentucky as a freshman. He averaged 2.9 points and 1.9 rebounds. At Los Angeles’ Harvard-Westlake as a junior, he averaged 23 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.4 assists.

Juzang joins fellow guard Jaylen Clark from Rancho Cucamonga, California, in next season’s recruiting class. Clark averaged 18.5 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.7 assists as a high school senior, leading Etiwanda to a 30-4 record and a berth in the CIF-SS Open Division regional final.

The Bruins recently lost out on guard Daishen Nix from Las Vegas. He had signed a national letter of intent with UCLA in November, but decommitted in April to sign with the G League. He was Cronin’s first signing since being named the Bruins’ coach a year ago.

Bobby Hurley accused Arizona State AD in booster scandal

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TEMPE, Ariz. — Arizona State men’s basketball coach Bobby Hurley sent an email to Ray Anderson about a booster scandal last season alleging the Arizona State athletic director minimized sexual harassment allegations by the wives of three athletic staff members in response to allegations made against Bart Wear.

In the email obtained by Yahoo Sports, Hurley accused Anderson on Dec. 8 of disregarding the safety of and showing no sensitivity toward the women.

“I feel like I’ve been lied to,” Bobby Hurley wrote in regards to the booster scandal.

Hurley also accused Anderson of coming up with a numeric scale to judge the harassment claims by the women, including Hurley’s wife, Leslie.

“You have chosen to create your own numeric scale on what sexual assault mean(s) which is disturbing,” Hurley wrote.

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Anderson responded by telling Hurley his email includes false and baseless allegations.

“Your approach here is puzzling,” Anderson wrote.

In a statement released by the program on Wednesday night, Hurley said, “my relationship with Athletic Director Ray Anderson today is strong. We will work together, alongside my outstanding coaching staff, toward the continued success of Sun Devil Men’s Basketball.”

Arizona State previously had an outside investigation conducted into the school’s booster scandal that determined booster Bart Wear subjected the three women to unwelcome comments and physical contact. In February, the school acknowledged to Yahoo that the situation could have been handled more quickly after waiting months to investigate.

The school canceled Wear’s season tickets and warned him security may remove him from the premises if he attends any future Arizona State events.

Houston’s White out for year after injuring knee in workout

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HOUSTON (AP) Houston forward Fabian White Jr. will have knee surgery this week and miss this season after injuring himself in a workout.

White was working out on his own this week when he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in one of his knees, an injury a spokesman for the school said was confirmed by an MRI on Tuesday.

White was one of two players on the team to start all 31 games last season, and he averaged 9.3 points and 5.5 rebounds.

White will redshirt this season and have one year of eligibility remaining to play in the 2021-22 season.

“I feel badly for Fabian,” coach Kelvin Sampson said. “He had worked really hard to have a great senior season. Our thoughts are with him and his family, and we will do all we can to help him recover and have a great senior season in 2021-22.”

More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

Georgetown transfer Mac McClung commits to Texas Tech

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Texas Tech landed a commitment from Mac McClung on Wednesday.

McClung is a transfer from Georgetown where he averaged 15.7 points and 2.4 assists in 21 games during an injury-plagued sophomore season. He was considered one of the best available transfers on the market.

“It was a number of events that made me feel I had no choice but to transfer from Georgetown,” McClung said when he opted to leave Georgetown. “I really wanted to stay, but things throughout my career made me realize that I couldn’t. I’m looking for a place I can call home. A place I can be part of a family and help them succeed.”

That statement is important. McClung is going to be applying for a waiver to get eligible immediately, and nowhere in there is a reference to actual basketball when it comes to McClung’s decision to leave the Hoya program. The last year has been a dramatic one for Georgetown. In November, two players – James Akinjo and Josh LeBlanc – left the program hours before NBC broke the news that LeBlanc and teammates Galen Alexander and Myron Gardner had restraining orders filed against them by a pair of female Georgetown students. McClung spent the season in and out of the lineup with a foot injury that was sustained in practice in February.

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The goal for Texas Tech is to use McClung — in 2020-21, not 2021-22 — in large part to replace what they lost when Italian native Davide Moretti made the decision to sign with an agent and turn pro in Europe.

And despite what some critics will tell you, it makes sense.

On both sides.

McClung can get a bucket. That’s what he does better than anything else. He broke Allen Iverson’s Virginia state scoring record. He can go, and Texas Tech badly needs players that can go out and get a bucket.

His issue is on the defensive end of the floor. He barely tried to play defense for the Hoyas, and outside of Virginia, there is not place in the world where playing passive defense is more unacceptable than at Texas Tech.

Put another way, if McClung wants to be anything more than a YouTube channel, he needs to learn to guard. At Texas Tech, he won’t play unless he does. And Texas Tech needs someone that can get them buckets.

How can any place be a better fit than that?

‘Voluntary’ workouts are normal for college athletes

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Last week, the NCAA announced that basketball and football players would be able to return to campus on June 1st, pending conference and state approval, to participate in voluntary offseason workouts with teammates.

It’s spawned a conversation about the return to normalcy and how college sports can make their COVID comeback. Our Corey Robinson made the point on All Things on Friday that the voluntary workouts that he participated in while a member of the Notre Dame football team were “mandatory optional,” meaning that they were voluntary in name only. The players were expected to be there and participate, even if it cut into their summer vacation.

How this plays out in the coronavirus era is an entirely different conversation, one with too many caveats to for people that are suffering from quarantine brain. For example, while the NCAA is pulling back on their restrictions, the schools and their athletes are still subject to conference rules — the SEC will be opening things up on June 1st, while the Pac-12 is waiting until June 15th — and state laws. Ohio has re-opened, while New Jersey is still very much limiting what can and cannot open. A return will be different for Ohio State and Rutgers, who are both part of the Big Ten.

And that’s only part of the complications involved.

New York City is the epicenter of the outbreak in a country that has been hit the hardest by this virus. Will coaches want to bring players that live in the city during the offseason back onto campus and risk infection? Will players that live with at-risk relatives be forced to return home?

The other side of it, however, is that as states open up, as local gyms open up, these athletes are going to want to get back to their routine. They are going to want to get back into shape. If you think that you have taken lockdown hard, imagine being a finely-tuned athlete that is told to stay out of the gym and off the basketball courts for two months. Those guys are going to jump at the chance to start playing again, and if the option is to workout at the local Lifetime Fitness or have them back onto campus, where access to weight rooms is monitored and sanitizing can be done more often, the answer is clear.

Allowing athletes to workout on campus during the summer may actually be the safer option.

Let me preface what I’m about to say with this: Moving towards a return to sports is a good thing for our country. We need signs that we can get back to a regular life at some point. We need hope. We need something to look forward to, and for many, that is watching — or playing — college athletics. There are so many unknowns that a slow, cautious return might be what works.

That said, the number of questions that are still left unanswered is mystifying.

For starters, who is going to play to test all of these college football and college basketball players? Who is going to pay to test all the people they come into contact with on a daily basis? All the professional sports teams that have returned or are preparing to return have rigorous testing procedures in place. College sports doesn’t. Those pro athletes will be kept in a bubble. They are going to be quarantined. College athletes will be on campus. All it takes is for one member of a football or basketball team to decide that it’s OK to hit a party where someone is asymptomatic to mess everything up.

And what happens when they do? Will that player go into quarantine? Will everyone that he or she has been practicing against go into quarantine? Will the teams they played in recent days go into quarantine? Will they be allowed to play road games if someone in the program tests positive? Will other campuses want to risk an outbreak just so they can get the ticket revenue from a 1/3-full stadium?

What about the coaches that are 70-plus years old?

Hell, what about all of the college basketball players from overseas? Are we ever going to see them in a college hoops uniform again?

Here’s the biggest question, however: College campuses have started to announce their new schedules for classes, and many of them are starting early and ending early, right around Thanksgiving, due to concerns about a second wave coming this winter. November is when college basketball season is supposed to start. Are we going to play a full season in the throes of a second wave?

The question of whether or not these workouts are actually voluntary is hardly the question I would be asking if I’m a college sports fan right now.