New Arizona head coach Tommy Lloyd is bringing Oumar Ballo with him to Tucson. The Gonzaga transfer announced Monday that he will be joining the Wildcats.
A 7-foot, 260-pound redshirt freshman nicknamed “Baby Shaq”, Ballo appeared in 24 games with the Zags this season after redshirting the year prior. He averaged 2.5 points and 1.5 rebounds in 6.3 minutes while shooting 63 percent from the field and 55 percent from the free throw line.
Ballo, who turns 19 in July, was the top international player in the 2019 recruiting class, according to ESPN’s Jonathan Givony. 247Sports rated him as the No. 78 player in his class and the No. 20 center. He chose Gonzaga over Arizona and Baylor. Lloyd was his lead recruiter.
A native of Koulikoro, Mali, Ballo will have four years of eligibility at Arizona and should be able to play immediately thanks to the new one-time transfer rule.
Before joining the Zags, Ballo helped Mali finish second in the 2019 FIBA U19 World Cup, where he was named to the tournament’s All-Star Five. He averaged 17.6 points, 11.8 rebounds and 3.8 block per game on 52.4 percent shooting.
Here are some excerpts from a longform piece Givony wrote about Ballo in 2017 when he was 15:
He stands out first and foremost because of his height, massive frame, huge hands and 7-foot-5 wingspan that allows him to dominate the interior against other players his age, despite never having lifted weights seriously. He patterns his game after Shaquille O’Neal and it’s easy to see why with his ability to move opponents around with brute force and his willingness to take (and dish out) contact inside the paint.
Highly mobile, coordinated and fluid, with good balance and a solid feel for the game, Ballo can pass the ball much more effectively than your typically raw 15-year-old. He sees both sides of the floor and showed a soft touch finishing off the glass or throwing in turnaround jumpers. His footwork and shooting mechanics are promising.
With that said, Ballo has quite a bit of work to do on his intensity level and polish. He can get away with being bigger and stronger than his opponents, and will look somewhat lackadaisical at times with the way he runs the floor, boxes out or puts a body on opponents defensively, which makes sense considering the circumstances. As players in his age group catch up physically and the competition stiffens, he won’t be able to get by operating at half speed. While he’s fluid and nimble, he’s not a freakish athlete who can compensate with overwhelming quickness and explosiveness. He’ll have to play hard all the time.
Our Gonzaga friends over at SlipperStillFits.com, who are more familiar with the college version of Ballo, say he is “a player with a LOT of promise, but still needs another year of development” and that he “struggled on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor. Although the can’t-teach-seven-feet mentality applied to Ballo, he often struggled to corral the quick passes from Gonzaga guards into the post and was generally ineffective in his limited time.”
It’s worth noting that current UA players and fellow French speakers Bennedict Mathurin and Christian Koloko congratulated Ballo on his commitment, dispelling rumors that they might be looking to transfer following the head coaching change.
Ballo, like Mathurin, attended the NBA Academy Latin America before going to college.
Ballo is the second recruit Lloyd has landed since being hired last week. He recently received a commitment from 2022 center Dylan Anderson of Gilbert’s Perry High School.
TyTy Washington—the top uncommitted 2021 point guard and another Phoenix-area product—has Arizona in his Top 6.