Behind The Scenes With Mohamed Bamba

One of the top players in the country overall and top big men on the Duke recruiting board, Mohamed Bamba has a number of high major options available to him. The Blue Devils have been putting on a full court press of late and we got the latest from the five star prospect's camp.

How are things going with Mohamed now that the high school year is in full swing?

PSA Cardinal head coach Terrance “Munch” Williams - Things are going well, the biggest thing he’s focusing on is developing and strength and conditioning and just trying to control the process as best as he can. He’s got tunnel vision in terms of working on his skill set especially with things that are important for college.

What are his skill development and weight room workouts looking like these days?

It’s good, he’s gained twelve pounds since September which is good considering how much we’re focusing on keeping the weight on in light of him being a busy young man with practices, games, skill work, school. He’s been working on a lot of stuff down on the low block with counters, left hand and right hand jump hooks, up and unders, catching and facing. It’s been a lot of repetition with those kinda big man fundamentals instead of trying to re-create the wheel. It’s really about finding stuff that he’s comfortable with that translates to the next level and then hopefully onto the NBA.

Where would you characterize his skill level is now with those different moves you were just discussing with the volume of skill workouts he’s been doing?

I think it’s natural in the gym, the next step is applying it in the game and having situations where he’s actually able to apply it in the game. Like in AAU it’s completely different just because in high school he’s got somebody coaching him that’s different  and there are things he’s needed to do in that setting that are just different from what he’s asked to do in the AAU setting. He just has to continue being aggressive in working on those post skills and when he has opportunity in games, he’s been using that stuff. He did some stuff a few weeks ago in a few games that I know we’ve been working on in the gym like with some jump hooks and things of that nature. He’s embracing more and more playing with his back to the basket in the low block and he’s also got the versatility to step out in his game and hit the 15 foot jumper.

What are the differences you see he’ll be playing role-wise with his high school team versus his AAU team this upcoming AAU season?

He’ll do similar things I think. He’ll probably do a lot less ball-handling but he’ll do a lot of high low situations and banging on the block and he’ll still be responsible for anchoring our defense and protecting the rim and rebounding and scoring the ball at a high level. We’ll ask him to be very aggressive offensively during the AAU season. He’s also going to be playing with another big, we’re going to have 2 bigs and 3 guards running a lot of the team because I think the bigs we have are all very talented. Our frontline should be really good and he’ll be one of the focal points once we’re playing.

So with him being one of the older guys on your team next season, what’s his role going to look like with those other bigs?

I think it’s going to be situational and it’s all going to depend on which big he’s playing with. He may play on the outside if he’s in with a big who likes to play inside. He can also go on the low block and do some damage down there when he’s playing with one of our other post guys. He’s got the versatility to play inside and out and it’s really about match-ups. If he’s playing the 4 and he’s got a guy who is 6’7, 6’8 on him, he can go down low and punish down there. If he’s playing a kid like a Wendell Carter who is a little stronger, he could try and make some plays laterally against him. He’ll be one of our main keys on offense.

To follow up with Wendell Carter since you mentioned him, in your opinion, do you consider it to be a favorable situation to think about Mohamed and Wendell perhaps playing together?

I think Wendell Carter is a really good basketball player, and I think those two are really cool with each other off the court. I think they both play at a high level and they both can do similar things and they both challenge each other and really, it’s about being able to play with talent, it’s more about the university and do they fit with the university and its situation more than it’s do they just fit together as players. So as long as they are both rebounding and scoring and blocking shots and helping each other, it could be something similar to a David Robinson and Tim Duncan or one of the better front court groups in college, especially since those two are so young and energetic. It could happen in several places but I think the first step is they are both smart and they are both good kids. I wouldn’t count it out, but it’s more important about the actual fit and them guys being able to play together and the playing time being there and them wanting to help each other get better. It’s not just about them playing together, it’s about what school could they actually do that at and how that system fits them. So if it’s a school that primarily wants to play one big and then four guards or wing players, I’m not sure it would work there because one would be playing behind the other. But if its a school that traditionally goes two bigs, then it might work there. That’s why you have to watch a lot of college basketball.

I’m not too familiar with Wendell’s recruiting list, but I do know they both have pretty much the pick of the litter in terms of where they want to go individually. I don’t know Wendell’s list of schools, but I do believe that schools that are recruiting the both of them are Duke University, Kentucky and Harvard, those are three schools in particular that I know are recruiting both of them. I don’t know if the schools are recruiting them to play together, I just know they are recruiting both of them with those schools. 

Is Duke, Kentucky or Harvard specifically communicating with you or Mohamed about how they view the possibility of Wendell and Mohamed playing together in terms of roles?

No, we haven’t with those schools talked about what it would look like with them if both kids went there, I personally would say that with PSA Cardinals we’re looking at a lot of different things for Mohamed and I think we’re doing a good job with our research. Some schools can recruit the both of them and say there’s a great fit but the reality is that is not what they normally do but some other schools can say the same thing and you can see that that is what they normally do. I don’t think the conversation piece necessarily has to be done because we don’t know if it’s actually going to come to fruition with those two guys playing at the same school. It’s not a package deal type situation for Mohamed, it’s all about finding the right fit. His worry isn’t as much that he wants to come in with a loaded class in 2017, he wants to go where he’s going to be with good players that are veterans in college along with whoever comes in with his class, that’s all cool too. It’s more about what’s the best fit for him to get the best situation to get to the next level.

Does that mean that Mohamed wants to play with some veteran bigs, or is it just in general he’d like to play on a team that has some veteran players overall on the roster when he comes in?

He doesn’t want to come in behind anybody, he’s coming in to play for sure. He wants to go to a university that has a chance to win. We know that winning a national championship is hard and realistically there’s only a few group of schools that are able to do that year in and year out. But he wants to have the best knowledge going in that wherever he goes in, he’s going into a situation where he has a real opportunity to compete for a championship and go far in the Tournament. It’s not that important to go in with a huge freshman class as it is to go into a school that has a good fit of guys who know about winning and can play with him.

I think a good strength and conditioning coach is key to continuing to work with him on his body and a place that’s known for skill development and getting you better in practice and in the game. Playing time is critical with being able to come in and play right away and get heavy minutes. The relationship with the head coach is also key in terms of being comfortable with him and feeling like he can go to him and trust and be mentored by. A school that has a good academic reputation and who can prepare him for life after basketball is also important. 

With wanting early playing time, how crowded is too crowded in your estimation with a projected front court depth chart?

Good question. It’s crowded if he’s not starting and I think anywhere between 25-28 minutes of playing time is cool.

How much are you guys paying attention to the recruiting situations with guys in the 2016 class?

Oh man everyday, completely. That’s a major, major, major focus with who is going where and if they are going to be there and how much better is that kid going to potentially get in the next year. How many bigs are there, who is actually in the rotation, how many one-and-dones do they have. You look at any school, if they are playing four bigs and if they are all young, are there any that are likely to leave after a year or stay longer. What would be the role there? You have to study playing time, how many people and bigs are in the rotation and how would he fit in ? It’s not an easy process by any means because with the 2016 class, it could become easier to see  it if a school really fits based on projected playing time or other things. 

Is there a still a lot of information you guys are looking for with the late signing period for 2016 coming up this spring as it relates to Mohamed’s recruiting situation?

I think there’s still some stuff that can translate or affect things in the late signing period. Like with a kid like Marques Bolden and Jarrett Allen, where do they guys fall because I don’t know their personal situations but they may be guys who spend two years in college. So depending on where they land, it might open a door or close a door.

How then are you evaluating programs recruiting Mohamed and other front court players in his class in 2017?

I’m looking at that a little differently because in my personal opinion—Mohamed is the best big man in the country in his class. I believe that whoever is recruiting him—he’s a priority and I don’t think the majority of schools recruiting him are going to try and recruit another kid who is a similar position to him. So the 17 class isn’t as much a worry because at the end of the day I think he can go wherever he wants to, as long as the playing time situation looks good.

I’ll give you an example. The big kid who committed to Auburn, Austin Wiley. Austin Wiley is from the Alabama area and he’s going to Auburn, so I’m sure he’s expected to play a lot. Auburn is not a school I’m going to assume is going to reach out and say they want to get involved with Mohamed because Austin Wiley and Mohamed are pretty similar as far as position goes.

So with that, do you think Mohamed projects to play more of a power forward role in college or a center role?

I think it depends on the college and their system and how they want to play. If they want to play up and down, then Mohamed could play the five with 4 wings and guards around him. If they want to really play big and pound the glass, he could go there. Say he goes to a school like Villanova, they spread things out, lot of open shots, mismatches—he’d probably play the 5 there. If he goes to a place like Michigan State, they normally play two bigs, so he’s got a chance to play either the 5 or the 4. He goes to a place like Syracuse, they traditionally play guys from the 3 to the 5 who are 6’9 to 6’11, so he could play the wing, 4 or 5. It varies depending on the school how he would play.

It’s not a bad thing then in your estimation if a school wants to play Mohamed with another big at the 4 and 5 spots?

No it’s definitely not a turn-off, it’s really how would they would play with each other. If you have two kids who are both wanting to come in and start and there’s already a kid who is there going into his sophomore or junior year and that kid is slated to start, then can you say there’s really spots there for both young men ? 

With the 2017 class, are there any other bigs in that class who would likely play a similar position to Mohamed in college like you feel Austin Wiley would?

I think it goes back to how are you planning on using them. I’ll give you an example. If I’m a school like Harvard, Harvard has the ability to say we could take Mohamed and Wendell Carter and both could play 28 minutes a game whereas some other schools may not have that luxury. You can’t say like if a school got DeAndre Ayton that Mohamed could go there and both guys would be able to get 28 minutes a game because they play similar positions.

So with Duke and Kentucky, if they echo similar thoughts with Mohamed and Wendell Carter to you guys like you just described Harvard might be able to—how do you guys react to that?

It’s interesting with both of those spots because they have front court guys who are going to be there for awhile I believe. I can’t really answer that question until I get some face to face time with Coach K and Coach Cal and they explain how they would plan on playing those guys together and more importantly if all of those guys are there, how would they plan on playing Mohamed and everything else that goes along with that because those are two places where Mohamed could have some success.

How much interest has Duke and Kentucky been showing towards Mohamed?

Coach Scheyer went out to visit last week. Both schools have been out at open gyms and stuff to see him but it hasn’t been a ton because they are in the middle of their seasons which is completely understandable. Our timeframe is not in a rush, we’re just taking the information in. We’ve been talking with them consistently, along with several other guys. It’s been a balance in terms of communication with both staffs, it’s really clear with both that he’s a guy they want to have a lot more dialogue with the head coach. The assistants are doing a great job on checking in on him, making sure he’s well. 

What’s the feedback been like for you guys with Coach K and Coach K in your communication with them?

It’s been positive, they both have said he’s a priority for them and they believe they can help him get to the next level and they both feel he fits what they do. I don’t have any negative thoughts towards either. 

What’s the future plans for visits and whatnot?

The biggest focus right now is just developing, keeping his grades straight, getting him prepared to knock out that SAT and then when the time comes, getting some visits in. There’s always June and August, maybe March—there’s no rush. I think seeing practices is very important and really having some time to spend with the coaches, especially the head coach is really important for conversation. It’s not just going to see a game when they play a big rival, it’s being able to spend some time with the coaches. 

Big picture…is Mohamed’s decision likely to come in the late signing period or early signing period Senior year?

Late, he’s planning to sign late. At this moment that’s the plan, so we can’t guarantee anything but it’s really about seeing everything through and giving him time to think about everything he needs to and watch schools. The more time the better. We have to wait for some dominos to fall. We’re looking at who goes pro, who graduates and who will they have. 

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