It should come as no surprise to college basketball fans that freshmen have come to possess a significant portion of the star power in the sport. Just look at this year’s NBA draft, where the first upperclassman was not selected until Duke sophomore Luke Kennard with 12th pick. So while some returning players will undoubtedly have a major impact in 2017–18 season, it’s important to get to know the new faces who may come to occupy the spotlight.
With that in mind, SI.com will be introducing you to the top 25 incoming freshmen in college basketball and breaking down the impact those players could have this season. We move to the No. 3 overall recruit, Texas’s Mohamed Bamba.
What he means for Texas’s recruiting class
No other recruit in this class may do more to change the long-term trajectory of his program than Bamba. He chose the Longhorns over the nation’s two premier recruiters, Duke and Kentucky, as well as Michigan. Bamba would be tracking toward a top-five selection in the 2018 NBA draft regardless of which program he picked, but in Austin, he’ll have the opportunity to turbocharge Shaka Smart’s process of building Texas into a Big 12 power.
Bamba is the linchpin of the Longhorns’ haul, and they’re also adding four four-star 2018 prospects: point guard Matt Coleman, power forwards Jericho Sims and Royce Hamm and shooting guard Jase Febres.
How he fits
The Longhorns have room to fill in their frontcourt, with Shaquille Cleare graduating and Jarrett Allen heading to the NBA. But those specifics are beside the point: Bamba is too good to keep off the floor. The complexion of his game is such that he would be a valuable addition anywhere.
Bamba offers certain traits (rim protection, rebounding, the quickness to defend in space) that would prop up every team’s defense, and he’ll pitch in as a close-range finisher on offense, even if his skills are less developed on that end of the floor. Texas rated out in the top 25 nationally in adjusted points allowed per possession last season, according to Kenpom.com, and now the Longhorns are adding a player with the size, mobility and instincts to fundamentally alter the ways in which even elite opposing offenses will try to score on them. It is not inconceivable that Bamba will be one of the best defensive players in college basketball.
Bamba’s commitment was the first piece of great news Smart got in late May. The second was guard Andrew Jones’s decision to withdraw from the NBA draft pool. Those two developments will, almost certainly, ensure Texas tops the 11-win mark it posted during a disappointing 2016–17 campaign. Even with the departures of Allen, Cleare and leading scorer Tevin Mack (who transferred to Alabama), the Longhorns can set their sights on at least 20 victories (the total they posted in Smart’s first season in charge) and an NCAA tournament berth.
Pushing Kansas for the Big 12 title feels like a stretch, but Texas should battle West Virginia for second place in the conference.