BROOKLYN — It’s a safe bet that most, if not all, of the players at the Jordan Brand Classic are ready to make an impact in college basketball. Mo Bamba might be one of the few who’s ready to make an impact in a college classroom.
In Bamba’s case — because he’s 6-11, with a wingspan of 7-9 and is still improving in basketball — that might be only a year, or maybe two, but you get the feeling he doesn’t view a classroom as a place to rest between workouts.
Bamba is from Harlem but since his sophomore year has been at Westtown School (West Chester, Pa.). Following the season, when other players were making last-minute recruiting trips, he went on a senior project to China.
“I had a lot of fun,” Bamba said. “I think the best answer for ignorance is to get out and travel. Not a lot of people know much about Chinese and Asian culture. The best way to learn is to get out in it. Me and my best friend were joking around about going. After a while it got serious and when my school decided it would fund most of it, we were going. It didn’t hit me until I got on the plane.”
Bamba is one of five undecided players at the Jordan Brand Classic, along with Kevin Knox, Brandon McCoy, Brian Bowen and Trevon Duval. Bamba says his decision between Duke, Kentucky, Michigan, and Texas can wait.
“I don’t have a timeline,” Bamba said. “I have to reflect on each university and each school. I honestly think I can play with anyone. I hate to brag, but I think I’m that good of a teammate.
“I’d rather learn from some of the players who are staying. I am trying to picture myself with every program. Just waiting it out and seeing what’s best for me. Most seniors in high school have until May 1, so I think I’m doing pretty good on time.”
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Bamba is a realist, of course. He knows his unique skills mean that professional basketball is likely in his future, but he also is focused on life after basketball.
“You want to look at a lot of beyond basketball stuff, what the university can give me, whether it’s one year or four,” Bamba said. “I definitely want a degree from whatever university it is, whether that means coming back for summer sessions or whatever. I am definitely looking beyond basketball.”
Bamba said elite players often get trapped by the need to get to the NBA quickly.
“Guys get on campus and set a mental timeline or mental stopwatch, saying ‘I got to get out in eight months.’ That’s not really my attitude,” Bamba said. “The worst-case scenario is a second year of college, which is pretty sweet. I want to have a long-lasting impact on campus, just not on the basketball, having success in the classroom and the community.”
Here’s what Bamba sees in each of his finalists:
“At Duke, you get Coach K, you get the school and Duke basketball,” Bamba said. “Now I see why Gary (Trent, Jr.) has been relentless in telling me about the three-brand stuff there and that’s pretty darn unique. Texas is all about the (coach) Shaka (Smart) relationship. Shaka is a guy who before, when he wasn’t even recruiting me, he treated me like he would be coaching me. Overall, Austin is a super-progressive city, as far as Texas goes. The university is pretty cool and I believe it is a Top 10 team. Kentucky, my sister said, when I visited Kentucky, she said she saw how serious Mohamed was about basketball. As soon as you go in Kentucky’s gym, you see the one-and-dones. I try not to get caught up in the one-and-done, but they definitely put guys in the position to do some of the goals I have. Michigan is pure excellence and having the balance of athletics and academics.”