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What is Arizona getting in Oumar Ballo? A Gonzaga expert weighs in

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Norfolk State v Gonzaga Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

The Arizona Wildcats landed Gonzaga transfer Oumar Ballo on Monday, reuniting him with new UA head coach Tommy Lloyd.

The 7-footer was a four-star recruit entering Gonzaga but hardly played in Spokane, redshirting in 2019-20 and averaging 2.5 points and 1.5 rebounds in 6.3 minutes in 2020-21.

We wanted to know more about the new UA big man, so we caught up with Peter Woodburn of SlipperStillFits.com to get some more insight.

Here’s the Q&A.

Ryan Kelapire: How would you sum up Ballo’s career at Gonzaga?

Peter Woodburn: Incomplete. Ballo arrived in Spokane as a very promising (and very young) player who would needed to the work to put his game together. Those flashes of what he can do came occasionally, but more often than not, his time on the court this past season showcased he wasn’t quite there yet. That said, he is a large human being, and when he has his potential realized, he will be a force.

RK: Why did Ballo transfer?

PW: There was chatter that with Joel Ayayi leaving, Ballo would go as well after losing his French speaking buddy. Ballo was getting spot minutes this season but was pushed down the depth chart when Ben Gregg graduated early and started his collegiate career with a free season. The Zags frontcourt, assuming Drew Timme stays (which seems to be a safe assumption), is loaded for next season with Chet Holmgren, Timme, Anton Watson, and Gregg.

Realistically, there just weren’t a lot of minutes for Ballo next year. There were plenty for him in the following season, but it is a lot to ask a player to look that far ahead.

RK: What was Ballo’s relationship with Tommy Lloyd like?

PW: The fact that he is following Lloyd to Arizona makes me think it is pretty good. Oumar Ballo is the classic Tommy Lloyd international recruit—a project. I’d imagine it is a pretty close one, but I honestly don’t know.

RK: What are Ballo’s strengths as a player?

PW: He is just a mountain of a man. Ballo earned the nickname Baby Shaq during his time playing for Malian national team, and if you watch his FIBA mixtapes, you see plenty to be excited about. For whatever reason, that just hadn’t quite clicked yet at Gonzaga. He was also slowed by a thumb injury last season, so that might’ve played a part.

RK: What are Ballo’s weaknesses?

PW: Ballo looked a bit timid at the speed of the Gonzaga offense. He often fumbled passes into the post, missed defensive assignments, a lot of things you would expect from a prospect. The thing about Ballo is that he is rather young—even after two years at Gonzaga, he will only be 19 this summer. The talent is definitely there, he just needs to put the work in.

RK: What role is he best suited for in 2021-22?

PW: Barring a massive leap in production during practice, I wouldn’t expect to see Ballo for more than six-to-eight minutes per game next season. He is just too raw at the moment. If Ballo is playing more than that next season, either something has gone very wrong, or he has made an amazing jump during the offseason.

RK: Ballo still has four years of eligibility left, so how do you see his college career unfolding?

PW: I think he will be a dominant big man in the Pac 12 by the 2022-23 season. The thing about Gonzaga and Tommy Lloyd, all of the players were on the same sort of track. Freshman year = spot minutes, sophomore year = more of an impact, junior year = offensive focal point. I don’t see any reason to think otherwise with Ballo.

RK: How should Arizona fans feel about this pickup?

PW: Ballo arrived at Gonzaga as one of the top international prospects in the Class of 2019. He was young and raw and just needs some coaching. Pretty much everyone in Spokane is bummed to see him leave because we all know that although he wouldn’t see much playing time next season, he would probably have seen more than enough minutes his junior season. So it goes, and we wish the big man well down in Arizona.