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2019-20 Player Preview: Oumar Ballo is waiting to be unleashed

Ballo’s eligibility may be a work in progress, but he’s worth the wait.

NBA: All Star-Borders Global Camp Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

You’re doing something right as a basketball player if your nickname is “Baby Shaq.” Oumar Ballo, who measures in at 6’10”/245 pounds at the tender age of 17 certainly qualifies for that moniker, and if you’ve seen him play you can see why the name stuck.

Ballo has taken an uncommon route to Spokane on his basketball journey, leaving his country of Mali for Las Palmas, Spain after accepting an invitation to attend a British prep school—Canterbury International Basketball Academy—which served as his incubator for the game. After earning back-to-back MVP honors for the Spanish U16 Championship in 2017 and Spanish Junior Championship in 2018 during his time with CIBA, basketball took Ballo to Mexico City in the fall of 2018 where he concluded his prep career at the NBA Academy Latin America.

After re-classifying from the 2020 to 2019 class, and having just turned 17 this past July, Ballo is the baby of this team and the youngest member of his recruiting class. As such, it’s not surprising that the coaching staff has preached patience with his development as there’s still some rawness to his game despite his rating as a 5-star recruit. Don’t let that damper your enthusiasm about Ballo, however, as he holds the potential to be a legitimate game wrecker if his performances in international basketball over the last two summers are a sign of what’s to come.

In 2018 at the FIBA U17 World Cup, Ballo posted an absurd 32 point and 32 rebound line (a FIBA U17 record) in a game against the Dominican Republic and earned a spot on the “All-Star Five” (the all-tournament team) alongside the likes of Vernon Carey Jr. (#6 recruit in the 2019 class per ESPN and committed to Duke) and Jalen Green (#3 recruit in the 2020 class per ESPN). This past summer, at the FIBA U19 World Cup, Ballo averaged 17.6 ppg and a tournament best 11.8 rpg while leading his team to a surprise appearance in the Final against the United States and ultimately a silver medal.

Ballo has proven that he can be a menace on the court against his peers on the international stage. The next challenge for him is to continue on his development arc and dominate for Gonzaga.

To that end, Ballo is still awaiting clearance from the NCAA on his eligibility per reports from Bud Withers and Jim Meehan of The Spokesman-Review. Per Roth’s comments on the situation to The Spokesman-Review, it appears that this is simply a a situation of when, and not if, the NCAA processes all of Ballo’s paperwork and clears him for game action (as an aside, Roth’s comments about the processing time being delayed because it’s football season is unbelievably frustrating and classic NCAA nonsense).

In the meantime, Ballo is still allowed to practice with the team and took part in Kraziness in the Kennel over the weekend. While fans may have to wait a little longer than they would like to see him play in real games, the wait will absolutely be worth it for Baby Shaq.