There aren’t many players who have generated more intrigue and excitement amongst Gonzaga fans in recent years than Oumar Ballo. The 7-footer, whom Corey Kispert aptly described as a “Mountain of a Man” last year at the beginning of fall practice, will make his highly anticipated Gonzaga debut this season after taking a redshirt in 2019-20.
Despite his larger than life size, Ballo has mostly flown under the radar in the build up to the new season. However, with Filip Petrusev’s early departure there is a spot in the rotation up for grabs and it would be ideal for the Zags if Ballo was ready to take it.
“Baby Shaq,” as he was called during his recruitment, arrived at Gonzaga last season younger than most freshmen and still quite raw as a basketball prospect. The decision on whether to redshirt Ballo or not was made for the coaching staff when the NCAA ruled him an academic redshirt for the 2019-20 season and ineligible to play. While unfortunate for Ballo, that decision may have ultimately been the best thing for his development as he was still allowed to practice with the team and acclimate to the demands of high level college basketball without the attendant pressure of trying to earn minutes on a top-ranked squad as a 17-year old.
After a year in the Olynyk Clinic, it will be interesting to see where Ballo is on the development track. The physical tools are very apparent, and at a minimum I would hope he is able to provide at least 10 minutes off the bench to spell Timme in the interior. Of course, his ceiling is much, much higher.
Mark Few has been curiously mum about Ballo during his preseason media hits, which begs the question of whether he’s trying to keep Ballo a surprise for opponents or if he’s simply managing expectations if Ballo isn’t as far along as he needs to be to play a significant role. If Ballo’s understanding of Gonzaga’s offensive and defensive system are at a proficient level and he’s ready to take on a serious role, the Zags could be a wholly devastating force when you consider the depth of talent on the wings and in the backcourt.
I anticipate that Ballo’s skillset will be able to complement both Drew Timme and Anton Watson’s games, and the three of them should be able to forge a nice partnership in the post for the Zags albeit a young one considering Timme is the only one who experienced significant game time last season. If Ballo is ready to go and that trio can hit the ground running, it will be a long season for opposing frontcourts.