Freshman center Oumar Ballo may have shown fans a glimpse of what he can do at Kraziness in the Kennel, but Gonzaga men’s basketball fans will have to wait until next fall to see him in real-game action.
The 17-year-old from Mali has been ruled an academic redshirt for the 2019-2020 season by the NCAA, Gonzaga Athletics announced Monday. He will be forced to sit out his first year while still on scholarship and practicing with the team, but will have four more years of eligibility following this season. GU announced that they will not appeal the decision.
“Oumar is a tremendous young man and an intelligent student,” GU head coach Mark Few said in a news release. “International academic eligibility can be complicated. He will be a significant asset to our program. This is an opportunity for him to become a highly successful student-athlete.”
Ballo’s eligibility had been a question mark for the Zags for the last couple of months. When asked in October about when he would be available to play, Mike Roth was uncertain.
“He’s here, he’s enrolled, he’s practicing, now it’s just a matter of, let’s figure this last piece out,” Roth said to The Spokesman-Review. “Eventually, no matter what, he’ll be eligible. The question is when. Is it next week, or after the semester [Dec. 14], or is it after the season?”
GU is the latest stop for Ballo on a basketball-driven world tour.
He left Mali at 11 years old to play and study at Canterbury International Basketball Academy, a British school in Las Palmas, Spain — despite not knowing English or Spanish. In October 2018, he began attending the NBA Academy Latin America to complete his high school diploma. Ballo’s complicated academic record from those stops was the primary reason for the NCAA’s decision.
Ballo — nicknamed “Baby Shaq” by fans for his dominant physical presence in international competition — was a highly-sought-after international prospect before his commitment to GU last spring. At the 2019 FIBA Under-19 World Cup, he led the tournament in blocks and rebounds while being named to the five-man All-Tournament team.
Regardless of Ballo’s status, GU’s frontcourt depth remains largely intact. The Zags still boast five other post players, highlighted by highly-ranked freshmen in Anton Watson, Pavel Zakharov and Drew Timme alongside proven returners in Killian Tillie and Filip Petrusev.
Given his young age and the raw nature of his game, the extra year of practice and conditioning could be beneficial for Ballo’s development.
“He’s going to be special,” said GU assistant Roger Powell.