Everywhere Mohamed Bamba has turned lately he has seen a member of the North Carolina coaching staff. Bamba could say the same for a lot of schools these days. There’s no shortage that are interested in him.
Bamba, the 6-foot-11 center from New York City, is arguably the top prospect in the 2017 class. Asked here on Thursday how many scholarship offers he’d received, Bamba simply smiled and laughed.
“A lot,” he said after his AAU team, the PSA Cardinals, finished its second game in the Peach Jam, which is Nike’s marquee high school basketball showcase during the July evaluation period.
According to 247sports.com Bamba has received 21 scholarship offers, including ones from Duke, Kentucky and UNC. Duke and Kentucky have dominated college basketball recruiting in recent seasons, and more often than not both schools have landed the players they’ve most coveted.
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Now Bamba is among the most desired players in the class of 2017. He offered few clues on Thursday about which college programs he favors, and why, and said at one point that he’s still considering any school that offered him a scholarship – including UNC.
“North Carolina is another school I really like,” Bamba said.
He’s the kind of prospect – a top-of-his-class player, with immediate NBA potential – that has eluded UNC in recent seasons. UNC hasn’t successfully recruited a consensus top-five prospect since James Michael McAdoo, who arrived on campus in 2011.
Not that Bamba cares about UNC’s recent struggles in attracting the top-end talent.
“Tony Bradley is pretty good,” Bamba said of one of the Tar Heels’ three incoming freshmen, countering the perception that UNC hasn’t lured a best-of-the-best prospect in a while. “Tony Bradley is really good. At the end of the day, we’re all different players and we all want different things.
“I don’t really care about that.”
From the sound of it on Thursday, here’s what Bamba cares about: a chance to be showcased and developed quickly, and an opportunity for him to play to his strengths and versatility.
When I was growing up as a basketball player, all I hear was the word ‘potential’ – potential, potential, potential. And after a while potential needs to turn into some kind of work, some kind of production.
Individual development is especially important, Bamba said.
“It’s very big for me,” he said. “Because when I was growing up as a basketball player, all I hear was the word ‘potential’ – potential, potential, potential. And after a while potential needs to turn into some kind of work, some kind of production.
“And I just think if I can channel my potential into natural production at the collegiate level, I should be ready for the NBA.”
Duke will be an attractive option simply because of its recent success with players who arrived on campus as touted as Bamba. Brandon Ingram arrived with similar accolades and expectations a season ago, and he became the No. 2 pick in the NBA draft.
The season before that, the Blue Devils won the national championship thanks in large part to the contributions of three freshmen, all of whom left school to become first-round NBA draft picks. Yet when Bamba looks at Duke, he doesn’t necessarily see similarities between himself and its recent players.
“I’m looking for someone who kind of plays like me,” Bamba said, “but I don’t think Duke (has) had anyone who played like me in a while. I think the closest person, as far as being active on defense, is Luol Deng. But it will be interesting to see Harry (Giles), Jayson (Tatum).”
Bamba looks like a natural post player, tall and lanky, and one of his greatest assets is his wingspan, which measures 7 feet, 9 inches. And yet he described himself here on Thursday as “position-less,” and he doesn’t want to be pegged into a spot in the post.
Bamba said he’s able “to play most of the positions.” College coaches likely won’t argue with him. At least not now, while they’re all pursuing him.
Duke, which has had much success using a system in which players play multiple positions, is among the early favorites to emerge as Bamba’s choice. So is Kentucky. But there’s speculation here at the Peach Jam that Bamba might just surprise everyone with his eventual choice. An adept student, Bamba is considering attending Harvard.
Then again, he said he’s considering every school, for now, where he has an opportunity.
“I’m really considering all the schools,” Bamba said. “It’s not fair for me to only look at certain ... programs just because they had players that are at my stature. I think I mentioned before in this interview – everyone’s different.”
Bamba said his recruitment would remain open through July. Next month, at some point, he plans to narrow his list to 10 finalists.