Mo Bamba has never disguised the fact he would spend one season at Texas and then turn pro.
Coaches knew that when he was being recruited. Everyone, including Texas’ Shaka Smart, knew his time in Austin would be short. Bamba relished every minute, though, and is happy to call himself a Longhorn.
Still, the school announced Tuesday what has been known from the beginning — Bamba is going into this summer’s NBA draft.
“After an incredibly rewarding year at The University of Texas, I will not be returning school as I will be entering the NBA Draft,” Bamba said in a brief statement.
NBADraft.net currently has Bamba projected as the fifth overall pick. Arizona’s DeAndre Ayton is projected as the first overall pick and top center in the draft.
The 6-foot-11 star from Harlem, N.Y., averaged 12.9 points and led the Big 12 in rebounds (10.5) and blocks (3.7). He set a new league and school freshman record with 111 blocks for the season.
His 7-foot-9 wingspan allowed Bamba to grab almost whatever he wanted. He was on the national ballot as one of the 15 candidates for the Wooden Award, given annually to the nation’s best player. He led the Big 12 in double-doubles (15) and scored more than 20 points four times.
VIDEO: An emotional Mo Bamba interrupts Shaka Smart's availability to share a moment with his coach. "This is forever." pic.twitter.com/rgFOMQTLz7
— Jeff Barker (@JeffBarker_) March 17, 2018
At the NCAA Tournament, Bamba was UT’s star attraction, as far as national reporters were concerned.
Asked about the mock drafts, Bamba said, “It’s like almost impossible to not know where you are in the mock draft because people always say, ‘Mo, they have you projected as so-and-so.’ I’m like, cool.
“I try and not pay attention to it because I’m just, you know, I’m here in the moment. I’m not quite there yet. I’m living in the moment. I’m living in the NCAA Tournament.”
Bamba went to Smart in mid-December and said, “Coach me harder.” Bamba knew where he was headed as a player and wanted to maximize his time at Texas. This was after piling up 13 points and 13 rebounds and throwing down a spectacular dunk at Virginia Commonwealth.
Bamba had 17 points and 11 rebounds against Alabama. Then, he had a season-high 22 points and 15 boards against Kansas in the Big 12 opener. Bamba’s only two lackluster games came against Kansas State and Oklahoma State when he tried to play through a sprained left toe. He sat out the next three games to rest up for the NCAAs.
Bamba had 13 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks against Nevada in Nashville. However, he fouled out with 3 seconds left in regulation, and Texas went on to lose 87-83 in overtime.
In the hallway afterward, Bamba pushed his way through reporters and gave Smart a hug. The big man was in tears. “Love you, man. Love you,” Smart told him. “It’s forever, man.”
Smart then pivoted back to reporters and said, “He wanted to come here and be a part of something special. Obviously he wanted to help our team advance further than we did. So he’s hurting right now. I’m hurting for him. I didn’t want this to be the last time we coached him.”
Also on Tuesday, Oklahoma star Trae Young announced he was leaving the Sooners and going pro. He’s slotted as the eighth overall pick by NBADraft.net. “I’ve been preparing most of my life to join the NBA, and that time has come for me now,” Young wrote in an essay for ESPN.
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Mo Bamba is the third one-and-done player for Texas in the past four years. The other two:
Myles Turner (2015): The 2015 Big 12 freshman of the year went 11th overall to the Indiana Pacers, where he was named to the NBA’s all-rookie second team. He’s averaged 12.7 ppg and 6.5 rpg for his career and was voted the Pacers’ team captain this season.
Jarrett Allen (2017): The third-team All-Big 12 selection in 2017 went 22nd overall to the Brooklyn Nets; at 19, he was the second-youngest player to ever play for the team. His first career start came this January.