The 2016-17 season served as a historical low for Shaka Smart’s Texas Longhorns and the brightest aspect of an otherwise gloomy 11-22 campaign, Jarrett Allen, is now a first round draft pick with the Brooklyn Nets after just one season in Austin.
Talents such as Andrew Jones, Kerwin Roach Jr., Eric Davis Jr. and Jacob Young all return with another season of experience under their belts, while Dylan Osetkowski will finally be able to join the rotation after serving as a spectator last season due to transfer rules. If Smart and the ‘Horns are to ultimately enjoy a bounce-back season in 2017-18, though, it will largely be due to the addition of key pieces from a No. 5-ranked recruiting class.
There’s a convincing case to be made for Matt Coleman being the most necessary addition as Texas went without a competent floor general last season and thus, struggled across the board. When you find a quality quarterback on the court as all signs indicate Coleman will be for the ‘Horns, things tend to trend upward.
But it's prized incoming power forward prospect, Mohamed Bamba, who will have the most significant say in just how good Texas can be in year three of the Smart era.
“Bamba’s a freak. A freak. He’s a freak!,” Coleman told the Austin American-Statesman. “Now seeing him every day, seeing him workout, the stuff he does, how he affects the game with his length and skill set and his basketball IQ … wow.”
Such is to be expected from a 7-foot paint protector with what would considered the longest wingspan in the NBA and an ideal skill set for today’s game, as evident by reportedly hitting 71-of-100 3-pointers in a recent workout — hence the ‘freak’ label.
The most underrated thing about Mo Bamba? His skill level on offense. Was taking and making three-point shots throughout practice. Stud.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) August 1, 2017
Bamba enters Austin as the nation's No. 2 overall prospect and is the most tantalizing talent to side with Texas since Kevin Durant in 2006, but with heightened hype comes extensive expectations. Rather than becoming another piece to the puzzle at Kentucky or Duke, Bamba could be perceived as the savior of Texas basketball program that won just one-third of its games in 2016-17, even if just for one season.
Just take the word of the Austin American-Statesman’s Brian Davis as evidence — “This sounds like a wild embellishment or some bombastic fake news, but here it is: Mo Bamba will make you believe in Texas basketball again.”
“It’s actually pretty easy because I know I’m not alone in this,” Bamba said of how he handles the expectations to perform up to his hype. “My teammates, the support staff — they’ve all got my back. They set even higher expectations for me than most so the ones that others are setting for me are nowhere near what they are.”
Whether or not Bamba is ultimately able to lift to the Longhorns to heights as towering as his 9’6” standing reach remains to be seen, but another general expectation in regards to his entire career is that once his freshman season in Austin concludes, so too will his collegiate experience.
Although Bamba’s mindset is currently on the four-month season ahead of him, he told Rothstein that he’d by lying if his eyes weren’t on becoming the first name called in next June’s NBA Draft.
“I try to live in the moment as much as possible, but I’d be sitting here lying to your face if I told you my goals and aspirations weren’t to be the No. 1 pick in next year’s draft,” Bamba said.
His aspirations are entering the season are essentially the same as every elite prospect to set to grace the college basketball landscape next season, but unlike most, Bamba's vision of becoming the first No. 1 pick in school history isn't a far-fetched feat in the mind of industry experts, as noted by Draft Express.
“Bamba is a tantalizing prospect with #1 pick type upside who often leaves scouts and executives wanting more. On one hand, his tools are other-worldly and his two-way potential is unquestioned. In an era where length, agility, IQ and touch are coveted, Bamba checks all the boxes and has a monstrous ceiling that other top prospects simply can't match.”
If you’re betting the house, the safe money is on Bamba becoming the next one-and-done standout at Texas. His physical tools, versatility, basketball IQ and sheer long-term upside is simply to valuable to bypass the allure of becoming the face of an NBA franchise for long, and his services will certainly be sought after for such a role.
That’s what happens when you’re a freak on the floor and as noted, Bamba is well aware about where his basketball prowess can take him in the very near future.
But in the meantime, whether it’s the expected lone season on the Forty Acres or beyond, Bamba told Rothstein that he’s aiming to leave a legacy at Texas similar to that of T.J. Ford and Durant.
“I said this in recruiting and I’ll say it again: When you walk downstairs and see stuff on the wall with T.J. Ford and Kevin Durant — that’s what I want. I want to be a guy that comes here that changes everything. We and I say that because I mean it — we were 11-22 last year. I just want to change that and be in San Antonio at the end of next season in the Final Four.