Bill Self doesn’t make statements like this often, so when the Kansas basketball coach does, ears tend to perk up.
It won’t, however, be something Jayhawk fans want to hear.
KU (10-2) opens Big 12 play with an 8 p.m. Friday contest against Texas at Frank Erwin Center in Austin (ESPN2), and the No. 11-ranked Jayhawks will for the first time square off with 6-foot-11, 225-pound forward Mo Bamba, one of the nation’s top freshmen. Bamba’s 4.3 blocks per game is tied for the second-highest mark in Division I.
“His length is just ridiculous. I’ve never seen anything like it from a length standpoint,” Self said Wednesday. “The guy’s 6-11; his wingspan is 7-9. That’s plus-10, and I don’t know that there’s anybody in the NBA that even comes close to that.”
Self is right.
Not only is Bamba’s wingspan much longer than the average NBA power forward — DraftExpress.com pegs that number at 6-11¾ — but his average arm length-to-height ratio would approach historic levels. According to David Epstein, author of “The Sports Gene,” that ratio in average adult men is 1.01-to-1, while the average NBA player has an arms-to-height ratio of 1.06-to-1. Bamba’s ratio? A staggering 1.12-to-1, equal to the highest mark posted by an NBA All-Star in the past 15 years (Kawhi Leonard).
All told, Bamba has blocked 47 shots through 11 games played for the Longhorns (9-3).
“He can change a game without even blocking a shot because people are thinking about him,” Self said. “… He’s probably altering another five or six a game.”
While Bamba hasn’t been a revelation offensively — he’s made exactly half of his field goal attempts, a number hampered by an unsightly 3-for-19 shooting mark from 3-point range — Self said the former top-five recruit has got a “good touch on the ball” and can score over both shoulders.
The Jayhawks had varied success in nonconference play against a pair of 7-2 centers in Syracuse’s Paschal Chukwu (seven points, seven rebounds, no blocks) and Texas Southern’s Trayvon Reed (19 points, 14 rebounds, four blocks), but Bamba will be unlike anything KU has dealt with to date.
“Those guys were 7-foot and they were long (but) I’m not sure they’re as long as what Bamba is,” Self said. “To me it would be those guys plus (someone) who can really play. Those are nice college players, but this guy has a chance to be something special.”
Bamba certainly flashed that potential in the Longhorns’ last contest, a 66-50 victory at Alabama. In that game, Bamba notched career-highs in points (17), field goals made (seven) and blocks (six) while pitching in 11 rebounds in 29 minutes.
Also of note: Bamba was dinged for only one foul against the Crimson Tide, a responsibility Self said will fall primarily on 7-foot center Udoka Azubuike in Friday’s showdown.
“I’m not sure the one that would get fouls on him would be the guards. He doesn’t have to leave his feet to block a guard’s shot,” Self said of Bamba. “Doke needs to take it at him and try to force him to commit the fouls. That’ll be very important.”
Even if he finds himself in foul trouble, Bamba isn’t the Longhorns’ only frontcourt weapon. Texas can also count on 6-9 forwards Dylan Osetkowski (14.6 points, 7.8 rebounds) and Jericho Sims (4.4 points, 3.3 rebounds) among a rotation which deploys five players that stand at least 6-8.
“And we’re playing right now one big that’s considered a big,” Self said. “Even though Mitch (Lightfoot) can spell it, he’s not big. He’s only 6-7 and he’s light, 205, 210 pounds. Certainly this would be a hard matchup for us considering how small we are.”
It will be a tough hurdle for KU to clear in the team’s attempt to extend its unbeaten streak in conference openers, a stretch which dates back to a 1991 defeat to Oklahoma. The streak currently sits at 26, with 10 home victories and 16 road wins in the run.
But then, a tough opener would likely be true against any team in a league which went a combined 102-16 in nonconference play.
“Somebody said, ‘Is this a hard opening game?’ ” Self said. “And the answer would be, hell yes it is, but anybody we play would be a hard opening road game.”