Whenever Duke and Kentucky are among the favorites for a recruit it’s often hard for fans of the other programs in mix to find much reason for optimism. That pretty much describes the mindset of most Michigan fans when it comes to the recruitment of Westtown (Pa.) center Mohamed Bamba. The five-star big man lists the Wolverines among a final four that also consists of the Blue Devils, Wildcats, and the Texas Longhorns. When you also consider that Bamba played for Shaka Smart on USA Basketball’s Under 18 National Team with future Longhorn Matt Coleman last summer, it’s even easier to understand the “fourth wheel” feeling in Maize & Blue land.
But that extreme pessimism isn’t warranted according to Scout.com National Recruiting Director Evan Daniels.
“At this point I don’t think you can cross anyone off his list,” Daniels said. “I think everybody is legitimately in play. I think Michigan is certainly still in the picture and has just as good a shot as anybody else in this deal.”
“They’re not a token,” Daniels continued. “They’re legitimately in the recruitment. Mo is a different kid. He has relationships (in the Great Lakes State), and relationships have been built there that have Michigan in play. I’m not saying he is going to go to Michigan. Odds would say that he wouldn’t, but I do think that Michigan is certainly is still in the picture.”
Adding to that feeling are conversations Daniels has had with coaches for the other schools involved. No one appears to have a firm read on where the nation’s No. 2 prospect is leaning.
“Other teams are fearful of Michigan in this recruitment,” said Daniels. “(Again), that’s not saying he is going to go there.”
“It’s funny, I did a podcast a few weeks ago and I said on it that I believed it was more of a Kentucky / Texas race. Two days later I had people telling me, ‘don’t forget about Duke. They’re still in there.’ Then two days later a coach involved in the recruitment said, ‘you can’t count out Michigan. There are some strong ties there.’ Honestly it’s one of the most unique recruitments that I’ve covered. Mo is probably one of the best high school interviews that I’ve had. He doesn’t ever show his hand and he is very smart and knows what he is doing when talks to the media.”
That has left recruiting observers speculating about which factors will weigh the heaviest in the final analysis. Daniels, who has interviewed Bamba several times over the course of his recruitment believes one factor that can be crossed off the list is style of play.
“I think he can be effective in any of them,” Daniels stated. “Defensively I think he is going to be a game changer at the college level. His length flat out changes games. This is a kid that is seven-feet tall with a 7-7 wing span and an 9-6 standing reach. His length is no joke. Offensively he is probably not as respected as he should be because I think right now he is just lacking strength. He has really good hands, he has good touch, he can make a short-range shot, he can make a hook shot… he has just got to get stronger. That’s going to allow him to be more physical.”
“I think any of those schools he will be very effective at. I don’t know that one fits him better than the other.”
An element of “fit” that Daniels believes will figure in more prominently than many fans believe is what Bamba thinks of the schools academically. Michigan received high marks in that department after the youngster visited last fall.
“That was my first official visit so it kind of set the tone,” Bamba told Daniels earlier this year. “I liked it. Obviously Michigan is one of the biggest universities in the world and it has set to such a high standard academically and athletically. They do things the right way.”
Time will tell whether that favorable impression was strong enough. Fortunately for the coaches waiting on the edge of their seats for an answer, the wait is almost over.
“I think Mo is probably tracking at a decision somewhere around the McDonald’s game (March 29th) or in April,” said Daniels. “He just his last official visit. If I know that kid he is going to really go through and examine the schools involved again before making his choice.”