Mo Bamba Looking Forward to Matchup Against Deandre Ayton

by John Denton

LAS VEGAS – There are no official records to back up Mohamed Bamba’s prideful claim that he is undefeated against Deandre Ayton in past AAU showdowns, but the Orlando Magic rookie center knows the score and playfully boasts he is 4-0 in those matchups.

With the two 7-footers just hours away tonight from their first meeting as professionals – Bamba with the Magic and Ayton with the Phoenix Suns – Orlando’s big man made another confident claim.

``It’s about to be five,’’ he said with a wry smile.

Bamba has plenty of reason to feel confident what with his Magic (2-0) playing well in the MGM Resorts NBA Summer League from Las Vegas. The Magic whipped Brooklyn 86-80 on Friday and throttled Memphis and hotshot rookie center Jaren Jackson Jr. 86-56 on Sunday.

Tonight at 9:30 ET (TV: NBATV), the Magic and Bamba will get the Suns (2-0) and Ayton. In two games thus far, Bamba has scored 22 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and blocked two shots while also making 10 of 16 shots and two of four 3-pointers. Ayton followed up a 10-point, eight-rebound pro debut with 21 points, 12 rebounds and one blocked shot in Saturday’s defeat of Sacramento and rookie Marvin Bagley III.

Bamba, who has the longest wingspan ever recorded in NBA history at 7 feet, 10 inches, is eager to do battle down low with the towering Ayton, a 7-foot-1, 250-pound behemoth.

``I’m looking forward to my first (NBA) back-to-back, especially against Deandre,’’ Bamba said. ``He brings the best out of me as far as competing-wise. And it’s going to be a fun game.’’

Bamba, 20, has said he couldn’t have envisioned a better scenario than landing in Orlando where he gets to play alongside of long-time friend Jonathan Isaac, who, like him, hails from the New York City area. Still, it serves as great motivation to Bamba that he fell to the No. 6 pick in last month’s NBA Draft behind Ayton (No. 1), Bagley III (No. 2), Dallas’ Luka Doncic (No. 3), Jackson Jr. (No. 4) and Atlanta’s Trae Young (No. 5). He hopes to eventually make those teams regret passing on him in the draft.

``As far as being the best guy in the class, there’s definitely work still to do,’’ Bamba said. ``I truly believe motivation is internal, but there are so many things that happen externally and it’s hard to not pick that up as motivation. (Golden State forward) Draymond Green is a guy that remembers (34) names that were picked ahead of him. If I can carry that over into my game and have half the intensity that he had defensively and offensively, I think I’m going to be a player to remember in this league.’’

Against Ayton tonight, Bamba hopes to use his ability to pick-and-pop and knock down 3-point shots as a way to pull the Phoenix big man away from the rim. Bamba is confident that being able to hit a shot that he’s worked hard to perfect since he left the University of Texas will eventually open up even more things for him and his Magic teammates.

``Yeah, I hope (his reputation as a shooter gets out) pretty quickly because it will let me get into things like my one-dribble drive and two-dribble drives and playing off the defense,’’ he said. ``I think a lot of that (confidence from his coaches and teammates) is coming from the work I put into it and how much time I spent on my jump shot. It really pays dividends and I really trust that shot.’’

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