6-9, 220, C
Richmond (Va.) Steward
Class of 2011
Baru arrived in the United States from the Ivory Coast two years ago and began to attract notice prior to his junior season. Because his high school league's quality of competition is subpar, however, many said he had stagnated or even regressed during the 2009-10 campaign.
But even if that's true, he didn't need long on the 2010 travel circuit to reestablish himself. He was outstanding at the Pittsburgh Jam Fest in April and continued to impress numerous observers throughout the spring and summer, including at the Tournament of Champions and culminating with some terrific outings in Las Vegas at the end of the July evaluation period.
Many analysts use words like "motor," "toughness" and "intensity" to describe Baru's game. He runs extremely hard from end to end of the court, and once there he participates aggressively in each play. One of the dividing lines between successful and disappointing big men is workrate, and Baru makes himself a part of the action in nearly every possession.
He's very comfortable in the transition game. His long strides and superb conditioning exert severe duress on more lumbering opposing big men, and usually he ends up getting one or two uncontested dunks each outing. Physically, Baru has very long arms and legs, and his reach clearly is one of his most shining attributes. Though not a skywalker in the Rasheed Wallace sense, he does elevate well and can finish over the top of other bigs.
Far from the example set by many of his finesse, American-born peers, Baru relishes contact. He initiates the action himself on offense and on defense, using his body to establish position or to root out an opposing big man attempting to post him up. More impressively — and this is one of the two key distinctions setting Baru apart from most defensivee-minded big men — he has atypically nimble feet. Though not anyone's definition of a perimeter player, he quickly maneuvers around big men both defensively and when hitting the backboards.
Offensively, there's more to like than for which Baru is given credit. He wields a very high release — and thus nearly unblockable — jump shot, and he has legitimate range to 15 feet. His free throw stroke isn't bad, either, at least compared with a lot of other young big men. With his back to the basket he shoots an occasional short turnaround jumper, and he even possesses a few head fakes and reverse-pivot moves to keep the defense guessing.
And I love Baru's intangibles and vocal playing style. There were several occasions during the summer when I'd be watching a different court and in the distance hear "Haaagh Post, Haaagh Post, Haaagh Post" as he alerted teammates to the presence of an intruder with his unmistakable French-African accent. Watching him during many games over the course of the past six months, it's obvious that his top priority on the court is winning, no matter if he's accomplishing anything statistically.
As referenced above, the other aspect of Baru's game that makes him unique is his body type. Though thin and angular, he actually is able to play with excellent leverage. This is because when he bends his knees they angle away from his body in a spider-like fashion. Carolina fans will remember Tyler Hansbrough's body type and recall that his lower body is constructed the same way, as well as former UNC point guard Derrick Phelps.
The effect is that it enables a player to plant himself almost wherever he likes on the court, and inevitably he'll get fouled more frequently because it forces the opposition to come across more of his body in order to make a play on the ball.
I want to emphasize that a Baru/Hansbrough comparison is invalid in nearly all aspects, but there simply aren't many players at that size range fitting that physical style.
My greatest concern is his hands. Baru actually catches the ball pretty cleanly on post entries, but there are occasions when he drops rebounds you'd expect him to corral. He doesn't have bad hands, they just aren't great.
Additionally, Baru's offensive game is less than the sum of its individual parts. We can watch Baru and note the things he can do — hit a face-up jump shot, work hard for a stickback, run the court for slams, fake a defensive player and score craftily — but it also must be acknowledged that he tosses up more than his fair share of airballs and commits far too many passing and ill-advised dribbling turnovers. There's just something disjointed about his offense, and it makes you hesitate before mentally penciling him in as a consistent scoring threat.
On defense, he is very prone to fouling. The "man foul" comment will live on forever, but in truth he'd find himself in serious jeopardy of fouling out of games were they officiated by college standards and not the very loose, paid-by-the-game approach of travel circuit referees. His fouls are a byproduct of his aggression and coaches are loathe to quell a player's physical style, but it's an issue that's likely to crop up from time to time during his college career.
The other obstacle he faces is a lack of weight. For all the toughness and leverage he possesses, against some other centers Baru faces a bulk disadvantage. I've witnessed him get overpowered by tree trunk big men — leading to more fouls. Clearly, he must gain muscle before he's ready to become a team's primary interior defender.
Whatever uncertainties exist, Baru is a very safe big man prospect due to his athleticism, length, leverage and toughness. While his offensive abilities are more of a mystery and too uncertain to place him at the McDonald's All-American level, those other qualities should translate very well to the increased competition he'll face in college.
Because he doesn't fit the prototype of today's 6-9 skilled big man, it's also likely that he'll need at least three and quite possibly four years of college. As he becomes more entrenched at a given program, his intangible qualities will become even more valuable.
Rob Harrington provides basketball recruiting coverage for InsideCarolina.com, including reporting from events throughout the country. He's the editor of the national basketball recruiting website PrepStars.com and the print magazine Recruiter's Handbook. He also covers UNC basketball games for the Independent Weekly, writes a freelance column for USAToday.com and is a member of the Naismith committee honoring the nation's best high school player.