Draft Prospect Mohamed Bamba Exudes Confidence

Bamba posts incredible 7-foot-10 wingspan at combine
by John Denton

CHICAGO - Whereas most mock drafts have towering Texas center Mohamed Bamba slotted somewhere below consensus top-two picks DeAndre Ayton and Luka Doncic, the big man with the largest wingspan in the history of the NBA Draft Combine emphatically and confidently swatted that theory away like a shot attempt on Thursday.

``Absolutely, I believe that I have the tools, the presence and all the make-up to be the No. 1 pick,’’ Bamba said. ``I think (the media) will see more and more as draft night comes up that I’m right there with those guys, if not the number one pick. To answer the question in a sentence: `I do more, but require less, on the court and off the court. I feel that I’m the most efficient guy in this draft class.’’

If Bamba is wrong about being the top pick in the June 21 NBA Draft – and you might have a hard time convincing him of that considering that confidence practically oozes out his every pore – he should be one of the top selections of teams selecting in the top 10. Whether or not he is available when the star-starved Orlando Magic pick at No. 6 remains to be seen, but he’s already met with the franchise’s front office and he already has a strong relationship with 6-foot-11 forward Jonathan Isaac.

``They had pretty interesting things to say and obviously I sit pretty high as far as fit and what I could bring,’’ Bamba said on Thursday in Chicago, referring to his meetings with Magic President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman, GM John Hammond and others in the front office. ``I’m really good friends with Jon (Isaac) and he’s a great dude. You know, I know the (front-office) guys down in Orlando really like length and luckily for me I’m pretty lengthy.’’

Is he ever lengthy? `Mo,’ as he has been affectionately nicknamed by teammates and those close to him, had his wingspan measured at 7-foot, 10 inches – three inches longer than the next closest prospect for this draft (Kansas’ Udoka Azubuike). Bamba’s reach is even more expansive than the 7-feet, 8 1/2-inch reach of Utah center Rudy Gobert, a strong candidate to win this season’s Defensive Player of the Year award in the NBA. Combine Bamba’s reach with his 7-foot-3/4 height and he is within a quarter-inch of reaching the rim while standing flat-footed.

Undoubtedly, he said, that jaw-dropping length with help him ultimately become a game-changer in the NBA for whatever team selects him in the draft.

``I was actually short-arming it every time I did the test,’’ Bamba joked, referring to the testing he was put through to check his weight (225.6 pounds), body fat index (6.2 percent), hand width (10.25 inches) and hand length (9.75 inches). ``I was pretty surprised myself (about his wingspan). Honestly, this might sound cliché, but I think I’ve grown a little bit since the pre-draft process started. That’s just wild to me.

``One word to summarize it all would be my `presence,’ both offensively and defensively,’’ he added confidently. ``The presence that I have is pretty profound, more than any other prospect.’’

Bamba’s raw numbers likely will have GMs of teams at the top of the draft going back and watching and re-watching videotape of the center’s games while playing one season at the University of Texas. In 29 games, he averaged 12.9 points, 10.4 rebounds and 3.7 blocks a game while shooting 60.3 percent from the floor. Undoubtedly, GMs and scouts will be impressed by the 22-point, 15-rebound, eight-block effort he hung on Kansas earlier in the season and they won’t be able to miss the 25-point, 15-rebound, four-block effort against Ole Miss. He swatted at least four shots 19 times, including a career-best eight against Kansas, seven against Texas Tech, six versus TCU and another five against Texas Tech.

As for his self-described ``presence,’’ he said it means a variety of things that all center around his ability to change a game with his defensive abilities.

``It’s just about being an elite rim-protector,’’ he said. ``One difference between me and any other prospect in this class is presence. If I’m plugged into the NBA right now – I don’t want to be cocky when I say this – but I feel I’d be one of the best rim protectors in the league as a rookie. It’s something that I’ve really tried to master early in my career and it’s only going to get better.’’

Bamba said it’s only natural that his game be compared to that of Utah’s Gobert, the center who has been nicknamed ``The Stifle Tower’’ because of his wingspan and his French roots. Like Gobert, Bamba said the greatness of his defensive style in in his versatility.

``I don’t think the comparisons (with Gobert) come just because of the wingspan,’’ said Bamba, a native of Harlem, whose parents migrated from the Ivory Coast. ``There are a lot of lengthy guys that people could compare me to, but what they see when they compare me to Rudy is our presence. We both have switch-ability, we protect the rim and they see more than the numbers around the wingspan.’’

Bamba, who sought out advice from NBA legend David Robinson not long after declaring for the draft, met with 13 different teams on Wednesday and Thursday. They quizzed him about everything from his ``love for the game,’’ his supposed ``low motor’’ and the things that make him different as a player. He didn’t hold back in stressing his strengths – something he said will eventually get him in contention to be the top overall pick.

``What makes me unique is my ability to adapt to different situations and switch onto smaller guards and stay out there,’’ Bamba said. ``Another component to being out there on the floor – and this is something that I learned as my college career went on – was staying on the floor, literally, comes down to not picking up fouls.

``I feel that I can be plugged in right away and have a profound impact on any team,’’ he added. ``As far as what teams need and what I need, I’m open to anything a team has to say about how they envision me in their future. And I think I will be successful in the very near future.’’

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