The Next BIG Thing: Mo Bamba

He has the largest wingspan ever recorded in the history of the NBA Scouting Combine. Mohamed Bamba, more commonly known as Mo Bamba, has dreams and a personality bigger than his other-worldly measurables.

In his one season at Texas, he led the Big 12 in blocks with nearly four per game, and now NBA talent evaluators are intrigued by not only Bamba’s potential on the hardwood, but also his character off of it.

Read more about the unique path Bamba has taken, that saw him go from an elementary schooler in Harlem, to a middle schooler in New Hampshire, a high schooler in Philadelphia, a Freshman at Texas, and now– the sixth overall pick in the NBA Draft, of the Orlando Magic. 

When you see him, it’s impossible not to imagine all of the potential Mo Bamba has on an NBA basketball court.

The way he got to this point is a testament to the dynamic way he made decisions and created his own path, hallmarks of the Maverick athlete type.

Humble beginnings

Mohamed Bamba, now commonly known as Mo, grew up in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City.

As a kid, he watched as his dad worked 70+ hours per week as a car service driver. The hard work and dedication he saw from his father is something Bamba tried to emulate in his own life.

In an article on the Athletic, written by Brian Hamilton, Bamba’s father, Lancine describes his sons dedication, “The boy would listen,” Lancine says. “He grew up this way. He asked me a lot of questions when he was little. He followed me, whatever I was doing. Then more questions.”

It was a work ethic others around the family took notice of, “If you didn’t put your head down and earn something the honest way, [Lancine] couldn’t care less [about the success],” says Greer Love, a mentor to Bamba since he was in elementary school, in the same Brian Hamilton article.

Growing up in Harlem, Bamba saw the dangers in his neighborhood including things like violence and drugs. When it came time for him to enter the eighth grade, he decided it was time for a change.

Mavericks take a different approach

As he approached eighth grade, Bamba told his parents that he felt it was time to spread his wings and leave Harlem to go down his own path. According to Hamilton, Bamba really just wanted to see what he was capable of.

This is a challenge a lot of Mavericks can understand. The “dynamic” athlete type is best exhibited by the mindset to go against the grain and try new things. Not only was Bamba avoiding all the misgivings he felt he could run into in his neighborhood, he was also challenging himself in a way that speaks to his dynamic thinking process.

Bamba ended up in Caanan, New Hampshire at an all-boys junior boarding school called the Cardigan Mountain School.

At Cardigan, Bamba was able to see things from a new perspective, something a Maverick will deeply enjoy and learn from. The new boarding school didn’t allow cell phones, there was a strict dress code, and conduct rules that were also enforced heavily.

The reason this sort of challenge is attractive to Mavericks is because it forces them to see things in a new frame of reference.

While the restrictions placed by the school regarding dress code, and behavior will make the Maverick uncomfortable, the change in scenery and new experiences surely helped Bamba adjust.

As he puts it, “It took me two to three months to get into the swing of things and develop habits,” Bamba said. “But everywhere I’ve gone, thanks to Cardigan, has been kind of a breeze. I was able to get a college experience at the age of 14.”

After his time at the Cardigan Mountain School was up, Bamba decided it was time for another change in location, and even more new experiences. This time, for his high school career, Bamba found a home at the Westtown School, just outside of Philadelphia.

In the Athletic article detailing Bamba’s rise, the assistant director of upper school admissions and basketball coach, Steve Tulleners described the first time Bamba toured Westtown: “He met the school’s director of admission, Nathan Bohn, and, unprompted, extended a hand: Hi, sir, I’m Mohamed Bamba. ‘Mo might be the only kid that’s ever done that.’” Tulleners said.

Mavericks are innovative and inventive

When it came time for Bamba to decide where to go to college, he enlisted the help of a mentor, Greer Love to help inform his decision.

Love and Bamba sat down when it was time to make a decision for college and mapped out a strategy.

“They catalogued how many first-round draft picks and one-and-dones a program had produced in recent years, as well as how many NBA front-office personnel were alumni of a given school,” Hamilton explained. “They noted how many Fortune 500 CEOs a school produced and its number of living alumni worldwide. They put it all in a binder for Bamba to reference. And then he pored over the data to inform his decision.”

This kind of process speaks to the Maverick’s ability to find new ways of looking at things.

This strategy Love and Bamba employed shows the kind of different thinking that’s a hallmark of the Maverick mentality. This shows Bamba has one of the main strengths of a Maverick which is seeking unconventional solutions to problems.

Bamba explained his college decision in an article for the Players’ Tribune, where he detailed a video he had seen where a professor gave a lecture about prioritizing tasks by using an empty jar and filling it with big rocks, medium sized stones, tiny pebbles and also a pile of sand.

“To me, the real lesson of the video is about prioritizing what’s important in your life — and why. ‘Big rocks first’ has become a mantra for me,” Bamba writes.

In the article, Bamba explains how he broke his college decision down into blocks that he weighed individually when making his choice.

Not only does this show a unique line of thinking, it also shows that Bamba may have sharpened a key Maverick weakness– they typically are sloppy with details, but Bamba explains his in-depth thinking and planning, things Bamba learned at the Cardigan school.

Maveircks are also prone to winging it, but the amount of time and consideration Bamba poured into this decision is evident of the opposite sort of thinking.

The Coach Connection

One of the big stones Bamba described in his Players’ Tribune article was “The Coach”.  As he puts it, “Coach Smart may not have been aware of it, but I put him through a weeklong job interview last summer when he coached me on Team USA in Valdivia, Chile,” Bamba says, “We instantly formed a bond. Now, the tables have turned, and I’m the one interviewing with him, hoping to show I can play a major role in his team’s success next season.”

Texas head coach Shaka Smart knew he was lucky to have Bamba, and after a controversy broke out surrounding a Facebook Live video his step-brother had posted about Bamba getting improper benefits from Love (which was proven to be untrue), he saw the character of the young big man.

“[Bamba] handled it so well outwardly that sometimes I worried about how he was feeling on the inside,” Smart told the Athletic. “But Mo has been through a lot in his life. And Mo has also had to grow up fast. He’s a little bit farther along in terms of dealing with things than most people.”

Bamba may have been drawn to Smart because he isn’t overly structured and he and his coaching staff allows the players to be themselves and play the way they are comfortable with.

That kind of coaching and leadership style appeals heavily to the Maverick.

“I’ve seen him get the rebound, push it full court, dunk on one of our players,” Texas teammate Matt Coleman said. “I saw him jab step, three. I saw him jab step, pump fake, one dribble and dunk. We call it his ‘bag.’ He goes in his bag sometimes.”

It’s not often times you see a coaching staff give free reign of that level to a young big man.

Darrin Horn, a Texas assistant coach recalls a story that exemplifies this sort of flexible coaching style and Bamba’s flexible mindset.

“As I went on with my basketball career, I kind of fell into this thing that I loved winning and hated losing. Losing is part of the game but you don’t want to lose so much that you’re becoming O.K. with it. I wanted to bring that mentality to wherever I was going,” Bamba said. “This was the place I felt I could have the most impact.”

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Bamba is also comfortable to raise concerns with his coaches. He found fault in a strategy the Texas coaches had instructed the guards to use, throwing the ball anywhere near Bamba, expecting that his size and athleticism would enable him to go after it and get it easily. He went to Horn with these concerns and helped usher in a change.

“The guards will be less aggressive throwing lobs, he argued, if coaches harped on them about turning it over when they do. ‘That’s some pretty high-level stuff,” Horn says. “Not just the what, but the why and the how.’”

The coaching and adaption from the players worked out, as Bamba finished his one and only season in college averaging nearly 13 points per game to go along with over ten rebounds and just under four blocks per contest.

Opposing coaches certainly noticed the Texas big man and his impact on the defensive end. “The guy could block the sun,” Kansas coach Bill Self said after Bamba blocked eight shots against his Jayhawks. Texas Tech Red Raiders coach Chris Beard one-upped Self: “He could block the moon and the sun.”

The Future

Mo Bamba’s life is about to change as he enters the next phase of his basketball playing career for the Orlando Magic. As he readies up for what is hopefully a long and fruitful NBA career, his Maverick mentality will continue to guide him as he makes decisions and moves forward.

Bamba will continue on being the dynamic thinker who marches to the beat of his own drum.

“The world is bigger than 94 by 50 feet, and we all agreed that Texas offers me an exceptional opportunity to blaze my own trail on the basketball front with the comfort of knowing that no matter what happens, I’ve got an unrivaled support network to lean on for whenever the ball stops bouncing,” Bamba said.