INDIANAPOLIS – Mohamed Bamba isn’t shy these days. The 7-footer from Harlem, who plays his high school basketball at the Westtown School in Norristown, Penn., talks openly about his goal of becoming the No. 1-ranked player nationally in the Class of 2017.
“That’s something I’ve been shooting for for a while,” Bamba said. “If I would’ve told someone last year that I would be the No. 1 player in the country, they would’ve been like, ‘Eh, there’s a few other guys.’ But now it’s something they would take into serious consideration. That’s just the goal I have for myself, to be the best.
“I’m not playing basketball to just be one of those guys and hang around. I want to be the best.”
Bamba is closing in on his goal, too. He’s now ranked as high as No. 2 in the class (by Scout.com) and no lower than No. 4 (by ESPN). Through two stops and seven games on the spring tour, he leads Nike’s Elite Youth Basketball League in rebounding (13.9 per game) and is second in blocked shots (3.1 per game).
His goal to supplant fellow 7-footer DeAndre Ayton as the nation’s top prospect is “certainly attainable,” said Evan Daniels, Scout’s director of basketball recruiting. “His stock right now is as high as it’s ever been, and I kind of like that he’s being open about pursuing the top spot. A lot of kids are more PC these days, but Mohamed Bamba has set goals and said them out loud and he’s going after them.”
Kentucky fans will be happy to learn the source of his surge in confidence: a conversation last fall with Wildcats coach John Calipari.
“We have a great relationship,” Bamba said. “When you grow up in Harlem and you tell somebody that you want to be a professional basketball player, they’re going to scoff. They’re going to look at you and be like, ‘I don’t think you should shoot for that.’ That’s something that has just been hanging over my head my whole life.
“Coach Cal came in and said, ‘If you want to be a pro, freakin’ tell somebody you want to be a pro.’ That was one of the things that helped change my game.”
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Now Bamba has scholarship offers from the likes of UK, Duke, North Carolina, Villanova, Arizona, Connecticut, Indiana and Louisville – among many others. Whether Bamba overtakes the top spot in the recruiting rankings or not, Daniels believes he’ll be a contender for the top pick in the 2018 NBA draft.
The rising high school senior already has elite (read: freakish) measurables at 7 feet, 210 pounds with a 7-foot-8 wingspan and 9-6 standing reach. He’s in the mold of towering former Kentucky stars Anthony Davis, Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein.
“It’s beyond crazy,” Daniels said. “He’s long, athletic, mobile, has a chance to be an elite shot blocker. I actually don’t think I’ve seen a prospect whose length has impacted a game, at the high school level, like him. Not only from a shot-blocking standpoint, but also steals and deflections and rebounding – he’s been blessed with this unbelievable basketball body and tools.”
Bamba is just getting started sorting through his recruitment, though, and said he hopes to get his list down to a top 10 by the end of August. He plans to take all five official visits before making a decision. And what is he looking for?
“A strong alumni base is real big for me,” Bamba said. “I want to be able to step into an office and tell them I’m a graduate of Yada-Yada University and it’s a sense of pride to say, ‘Yeah, I graduated from that school.’ ”
He’s been on the campuses of Duke, UNC and Wake Forest, but it’s hard to declare a clear favorite at this point.
“Kentucky is in the mix,” Daniels said. “I think it’s just too early to say much more. I don’t think he has favorites. We’re a ways away from him making a college decision, and I don’t think he’s really even dug into that yet.”
Kyle Tucker can be reached at (502) 582-4361. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org .