A string of recent standout performances on the Nike travel circuit have put five-star recruit Mohamed Bamba firmly in the discussion for No. 1 overall player in the class of 2017.
Bamba has been one of the top-ranked prospects in the class for a while now, but much of that was based on his through-the-roof potential as a 7-footer with rarely seen measurables, like a 7-8 wingspan and 9-6 standing reach.
Over the past few months, Bamba has started to further realize that potential, and he says UK Coach John Calipari is partly responsible for encouraging his rapid move in the right direction.
“We have a great relationship,” Bamba said. “He actually gave me a lot of confidence in myself. When you grow up in Harlem and you tell someone that you want to be a professional basketball player … they’re going to look at you and be like, ‘I don’t think you should shoot for that.’ And that’s something that’s just been hanging over my head my whole entire life.
“And Coach Cal came in and told me, ‘If you want to be a pro, freakin’ tell somebody that you want to be a pro.’ And that’s one of the things that helped me change my demeanor.”
Bamba’s transformation has not gone unnoticed on the AAU circuit so far this spring. The biggest change in his game has been his development as a rebounder.
A little lanky in the past, Bamba is starting to fill out his frame. A few added pounds combined with his new, aggressive outlook on the court has made him a force on the boards.
Through the first four games of the Nike EYBL season, he’s averaged 15.8 rebounds, easily tops in a league that features nearly all of the top players in the country.
“His length impacts the game in so many ways,” said Scout.com’s Evan Daniels. “He’s a terrific shot blocker. He gets all kinds of deflections. He runs the floor with ease. He’s got great hands. He’s got good touch. He steps out and makes mid-range jump shots.
“And now he’s added about 10 pounds and it’s really helped his confidence as a rebounder. He’s going after every single ball. He’s always been a fine rebounder, just because of his size and length. But now he’s trying to become a great rebounder.”
Bamba is a native of Harlem but attends Westtown School — a boarding school just outside of Philadelphia — and many of the top college coaches in the country have been stopping by to inquire about his recruitment.
Calipari was supposed to visit Wednesday, but that trip got postponed at the last minute. The UK coach has been watching him quite a bit over the past two weekends, and it’s likely he’ll be calling again soon.
Bamba also has scholarship offers from Duke, North Carolina, Louisville, Arizona, UConn, defending national champion Villanova and just about every other major program out there. The Blue Devils are seen by many recruiting analysts as the early favorite.
Daniels says it’s not that clear.
“Duke has certainly targeted him, but I don’t know that there’s a favorite,” he said. “He’s going to go through this process, he’s going to sort things out. I don’t think he’s in any kind of hurry to make a college choice. There’s a long way to go in this recruitment.”
After a 14-point, 16-rebound performance in Friday’s night’s Nike opener here, Bamba confirmed that he’s nowhere close to making a college decision.
He made it clear that he’s going to look at every angle of the recruiting process before he makes his choice.
Bamba listed no favorites. He plans to narrow his list to 10 schools after the AAU season ends in August, and he promised to take all five official visits.
If he keeps things up on the court, he might be the No. 1 player in the country by the time that college decision comes.
“It’s something that I’ve been shooting for for a while,” he said. “If I would have told somebody that I wanted to be No. 1 player in the country last year, they would have been like, ‘Ehhhh, I think there’s a couple other guys.’ But if I tell them now, they’ll take that into serious consideration. And that’s just the goal that I set for myself: Just to be the best.
“I’m not playing basketball to be one of those guys that’s just hanging around. I want to be the best.”