Despite its football reputation, Texas has churned out a staggering amount of basketball talent.
Ten Longhorns have become first-round NBA draft picks since 2006. The headliner in that group is obviously Kevin Durant, now a two-time Finals MVP. Don’t forget about LaMarcus Aldridge, Tristan Thompson, Myles Turner and Jarrett Allen — all standouts on their current teams.
Mo Bamba just lengthened the Longhorns’ NBA conga line. The shot-blocker extraordinaire with a 7-foot, 10-inch wingspan was taken sixth overall by the Orlando Magic in Thursday’s draft. It’s the highest any Texas player has been drafted since Thompson was fourth overall in 2011.
“After I shake commissioner (Adam) Silver’s hand,” Bamba said on ESPN, “I think it’s going to be a sigh of relief because I get to find out where I call home for the next hopefully 10-plus years.”
Several NBA draft projections had Bamba going fifth overall to the Dallas Mavericks. But Dallas and Atlanta pulled off a draft-day trade where the Hawks got Oklahoma guard Trae Young and a 2019 first-round pick and the Mavs got Slovenia-born shooter Luke Doncic.
Wherever Bamba landed, that team was getting an intriguing talent and far more engaging person, someone with sky-high marketing potential.
In his only season at UT, Bamba led the Big 12 with 15 double-doubles and averaged 12.9 points and 10.5 rebounds. He also set a school record with 111 blocks.
As a 3-point shooter, he’s got a ways to go. Bamba was 14 for 51 (.275) from beyond the arc in college. Over the last few months he has changed his shooting mechanics. Videos popped up on social media that showed him raining 3-pointers, albeit from a stationary position, usually at the top of the key.
“Since the time where we he left Texas and went to full-time working out and working on his body, he’s taken it to another level,” UT coach Shaka Smart said this week. “It’s been really impressive. I just encouraged him to keep that up and enjoy this process that he’s a part of right now.”
Bamba, a native of Harlem, N.Y., said last spring he would love to be drafted by either one of his hometown New York teams. Of course, all players just want to be drafted, period. But Bamba is far more than your typical basketball athlete, something general managers learned in pre-draft interviews.
He attended a boarding school in New Hampshire before transferring to a rigid private school in Pennsylvania for his prep career. This is a player who asked Smart to recruit him. His father drove for a car service in New York and always wore a suit. Looking good is important to how you are perceived, Bamba noted. He wore a classic navy suit to Thursday’s draft in New York.
Bamba was the No. 2-rated recruit in the 2017 class. In an interview with the American-Statesman, Bamba said he picked Texas because of the “platform” it provided for his future.
At his first interview session with Austin reporters, he literally went around the room and shook everyone’s hand before interviews began. His best interviews are ones that have nothing to do with basketball. Late in the season, he told a reporter, “I really enjoy our talks.”
Bamba will likely win over the NBA reporters covering him. Still, he probably needs to win in the weight room. Bamba was listed at 225 pounds at Texas, and that might be generous.
Just a few days ago, Smart said Aldridge stopped by Cooley Pavilion to check in.
“While he was talking, I was just imagining Mo next to him,” Smart said. “You’ve just got a grown, grown man, not to mention he’s (260) pounds or whatever LaMarcus weighs and how strong he is. Mo’s on his way to becoming a grown man, but he’s not there yet.”
With Bamba leaving Texas, it would appear the Longhorns have a glaring hole in the middle. Perhaps not. After coaching star recruits Jarrett Allen and Bamba the last two years, Smart is relieved to go into a season where UT’s best player isn’t a freshman big man.
Smart said forward Dylan Osetkowski has lost 20 pounds in offseason workouts. There are high hopes that Jericho Sims, who will be a sophomore, takes the Big 12 by storm. Incoming freshman Kamaka Hepa just spent time with the Team USA Under-18 team competing in Canada.
The Longhorns likely will not have a one-and-done freshman on next season’s roster. But that doesn’t mean they won’t have any more future first-round picks.
“In recruiting, the majority of guys that are high level players are looking for a place that can help them develop and move to the next level,” Smart said. “You really try to shine a spotlight on the fact that guys have come here over the last several years, many years, going back 10, 15, 20 years and had success at Texas and been able to parlay that into a great start to their NBA career.
And Smart added, “It sounds basic but kids need an understanding that you can do it here.”
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.