Another one of Texas Longhorns head coach Shaka Smart’s players on last summer’s USA Basketball men’s U18 team is coming to Austin, as No. 1 power forward Mohamed Bamba signed his National Letter of Intent on Thursday and will join No. 11 point guard Matt Coleman, who also participated on that USA Basketball squad.
So what is Smart getting in Bamba?
The attributes that stand out most quickly about the Harlem native are his size and length — he measured at 7’0 at this year’s Nike Hoop Summit and now has a wingspan of 7’9. Players don’t typically get much taller and longer than Bamba without sacrificing mobility. In that sense, he’s the prototype.
Because of his height and length, Bamba has the type of impact one would expect all across the court — he has a remarkable rebounding radius on the offensive and defensive ends of the court, finishes easily around the rim, and blocks and alters shots.
Much like Allen, his mobility allows him to extend his sphere of influence beyond the paint — he has the tools to become an effective pick-and-roll defender because of his recovery ability.
And since he’s still relatively light at 216 pounds, he can get off the floor quickly with his first or second jump.
So look for Coleman and the other Texas guards to consistently find Bamba on lobs. It’s as simple as throwing the ball in the vicinity of the rim and letting him go get it.
As a rebounder and defender, the biggest areas for improvement with Bamba will be his effort, willingness to box out, and ability to understand and execute pick-and-roll defense.
For Allen, playing with a high level of intensity on a consistent basis was an area in which he needed to show growth last season and the same will likely be true of Bamba. Working the glass on either end, Bamba doesn’t show much inclination to put his body into opponents. At the high school level, that’s not particularly necessary because of his incredible length and athleticism, but it will be in college when his physical advantages decrease.
Offensively, Bamba can’t quite compete with Allen in terms of pure touch, but there’s nothing wrong with his stroke, as evidenced by his 68.9-percent mark at the free throw line over his career. In fact, he may already be more consistent there than Allen, who struggled at times as a freshman and hit only 56.6 percent.
In high school, Bamba showed the ability to stretch the floor out to the three-point line and around the rim, with some evidence of a hook shot with his dominant right hand. The biggest concern is that he doesn’t shoot the ball with much arc, a common problem for big men that is mitigated somewhat by high release points.
Though it was a limited snapshot, Bamba did struggle some around the rim in the Jordan Brand Classic, but his length allowed him to record five offensive rebounds — if he can stay persistent in those cases, he can be hard to keep off the glass when he misfires in the paint.
Given the development of players like Allen and even less coordinated big men like Prince Ibeh under the tutelage of assistant coach Darrin Horn, Bamba should be able to make quick strides in his low-post game.
In fact, Bamba specifically cited Allen’s development as a “stone” in his decision:
I can’t say enough about the strides my friend Jarrett Allen made this past year. I saw his footwork improve. I saw the spots they put him in — where he was shooting, passing and stretching the paint like a modern five. Most importantly, I saw his confidence grow throughout the season as he distinguished himself as a possible lottery pick. I’m thankful for the blueprint he laid down and I hope to follow in his footsteps.
One of the most impressive and unexpected aspects of Bamba’s game is his ability to create some off the dribble — he can handle the ball and possesses an innate feel for the game that allows him to find teammates on the move. For someone of his size, that’s a truly rare quality.
The areas where Bamba struggles should be easily fixable. He needs to get more physical in all areas of the game, not just in creating and maintaining position as a rebounder, but also offensively in his ability to create and absorb contact as he fight for position on the block.
And, as mentioned previously, his effort level needs to be more consistent, though that is rather typical of high school players who can so effortlessly impact the game in so many ways. Even conscientious players like Allen often need time in college to understand the true nature of max effort.
Bamba is far from a finished product offensively and will have to grow into a more complete player under Smart and Horn, but much of that advancement should happen during the summer and in the non-conference portion of the season, much as it did for Allen.
Since Bamba is known as a mature person overall and a smart basketball player specifically, his immediate upside is tremendous. The nation’s No. 2 player, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings, will also benefit tremendously from a team that features a pure point guard, better depth, and hopefully better team chemistry following the transfer of Tevin Mack.
The bottom line is that Texas fans should enjoy watching Bamba play, even though it’s only going to be for one season — he has superstar potential and profiles as the type of player who could help bring recruits to the 40 Acres to play under Smart in the future.