Coach said there’d be days like this.
Jarrett Allen is now playing in the NBA, but he dealt with an adjustment period from high school to college. Tim Duncan is an NBA legend and one of the best ever to play the game, but he dealt with an adjustment period from high school to college.
When Texas Longhorns star freshman forward Mohamed Bamba arrived on the 40 Acres, head coach Shaka Smart warned him about his pending adjustment period.
“When these guys come in from high school — I’ve told Mo this a thousand times, now he’s finally living it — things are harder than you think they’re going to be,” Smart said.
During a media availability on Monday, Smart outlined three reasons why the transition to college is especially difficult for big men like Bamba, who carries 225 pounds on his 6’11 frame.
The first is the pace of the game — a lot of the fouls that Bamba is committing are because he’s a step behind. On one notable play in overtime against Gonzaga, Bamba turned the ball over on offense and didn’t sprint down the court chasing the play. Because he was a step behind, Bamba reached and committed a silly foul while allowing a dunk.
“Might as well just let him go if you’re going to do that,” Smart said. “So I told Mo that if you’re going to foul, he can’t score, you know — it’s one or the other.”
The second is the physicality of the game — Smart said that Bamba is stronger than he looks, but he’s not as strong as a fourth-year player like Longhorns teammate Dylan Osetkowski, who weighs 250 pounds. As a result, Bamba struggles to secure deep low-post position and finish around the rim.
Finally, the third aspect is how often defenders get their hands on the basketball. Many young players underrate that reality, Smart said, because it almost never happens for talented big men like Bamba in high school. In college, however, it’s a much more frequent occurrence, as Bamba found out against the Bulldogs on the second possession of overtime. While trying to execute a jab step, Bamba had the ball stolen from him, which led to the breakaway dunk and the foul that Smart termed silly.
Last season, Smart was pleased with how Allen developed between the early part of the season and the start of conference play, a critical stretch for skill development because of the winter break that allows the coaches to spend more time with the players in the gym.
Allen failed to score double-digit points in five of the 12 non-conference games before achieving that feat in all but three games following the start of Big 12 play. All four of Allen’s games in which he scored 20 or more points came during conference play.
Even Duncan failed to score in his first game and “didn’t set the world on fire” that season, according to Smart.
So Smart hopes that Bamba is on a similar trajectory. In Bamba’s first two games, things came relatively easily and efficiently against weak opponents — most importantly, he was able to score around the rim as Texas got out in transition, hitting 11-of-17 shots.
In the three games in Portland, however, things got more difficult. Bamba’s outside shot hasn’t been going down and he settled for jumpers at times. At other times, he dealt with those three challenges that Smart had warned him about.
As the game starts to slow down for Bamba as conference play approaches, Smart wants him to focus on on being more assertive offensively — he wants Bamba taking about 10 shots per game. Areas for improvement include going to get the ball on post-entry passes and effectively sealing his defender more often.
Defensively, other than avoiding being a step behind, Bamba has to learn to keep his arms vertical when playing positional defense and understand when he can go after the ball without a high risk of committing a foul.
So far, Bamba has committed four or more fouls in three of his five games — against Duke, he was disqualified when he committed his fifth.
All the potential is evident in Bamba’s early appearances. He’s averaging 10.4 points, 10 rebounds, and four blocked shots per game, after all.
The keys to further unlocking his prodigious potential will be getting past his adjustment period and developing a greater understanding of how to impact the game in college on both ends of the court.