Upon a planet believed to have as many as 10,000 mock drafts, they navigate a mock-draft world with reasonable aplomb.
“It’s almost impossible to not know where you are in the mock draft because people always say, ‘Mo, they have you projected at so-and-so.’ I’m like, ‘Cool,’ ” said Mohamed Bamba, the charismatic 6-foot-11 Texas freshman.
“I don’t look at them at all, no. I mean, I see them, but I don’t go seek them out,” said Michael Porter Jr., the personable 6-10 Missouri freshman. “People tag you, on my Instagram, people tweet ’em at you.”
The as-yet-undetermined NBA teams will pick them third and fifth, seventh and fourth, fourth and seventh, sixth and fifth, third and fifth, fifth and seventh, depending upon which list you study or don’t study. Before that, these latest titans of the peculiar American habit of one-and-done will get their little flicker of NCAA tournament half-life in games Friday, with Texas (19-14) a No. 10 seed in the South Region against No. 7 Nevada (27-7) and Missouri (20-12) a No. 8 seed in the West Region against No. 9 Florida State (20-11).
Bamba semi-famously missed three late-season games with an injured toe; Porter famously missed 30 to have a microdiscectomy procedure on his L3 and L4 spinal disks. Bamba returned in the Big 12 tournament to play 14 minutes with 10 points and four rebounds; Porter returned in the Southeastern Conference tournament to play 23 minutes and shoot 5 for 17. There’s a sense either of them could pull a Stephen Curry turn and help send their teams Davidson-ing through a few rounds, as happened in 2008, and there’s a sense that sense might prove unrealistic, even if sports fans would never be unrealistic.
“It’s too late in the game for the guy to . . . change it to fit him,” Missouri Coach Cuonzo Martin said of Porter. “He has to fit in to what the guys are doing. I think he’ll do a good job with that.”
What’s established already, though, is that their presences radiate — for a guy who joined the world in May 1998 (Bamba) and a guy who joined the world in June 1998 (Porter). It’s partly the polish formed by confidence forged by mastering frontiers, as when Bamba, born to Ivorian immigrants in Harlem, went to high school in New Hampshire and then in Pennsylvania, and Porter, born to two former college basketball players in Missouri, went to high school in Missouri and then in Seattle.
On a dais in front of reporters Thursday, Bamba, famed for a wingspan said to approach eight feet, replied to a Nevadan reporter by beginning, “I’m not taking any questions from Nevada natives, sorry.” While this joke landed somewhere between a raging success and a thud, it was the charming attempt that mattered.
He went on to answer that Nevada sort of resembled Texas Tech of the Big 12, in being “kind of like positionless both offensively and defensively.”
Since jetting to Texas and Coach Shaka Smart last summer, Bamba said: “Skill-wise, I think my game is night-and-day from June 1. I’m just playing out there. I’m shooting with confidence. I’m getting into post moves, using my body more. It’s just fun being out there imposing my will.”
He averaged 30 minutes per game, 13 points, 10 rebounds. He blocked 108 shots. Astute observers liken him to a newly hatched T-Rex who will need to decide the caliber of his hunt. Teammates liken him to pure joy, as when Jacob Young said: “Great personality. Very friendly. Very funny. Mo is my guy. I can’t get enough of Mo. He never pushes you off. He’s always there to help you. . . . A hell of a guy. A hell of a guy.”
In the doorway of the Missouri locker room, the presence of Porter wrought an inconvenient thicket. Waves of questions came at him as they would if he already manned the NBA itself. He addressed his apparent new haircut. (“It’s not really that new. I just brushed it down.”) He told of the art of limiting the voices in his head. (“I’m pretty good at taking what people say and just putting it to the side and focusing on what’s important for me and the team.”) He gauged his percentage of recovery at 70 percent, an increase of five percentage points from his self-diagnosis after the loss to Georgia in the SEC tournament.
He reported about the growth of his teammate and brother, Jontay Porter, the SEC’s co-sixth man of the year. (“Sometimes he thinks he knows better than everybody else. But that’s a thing he’s really grown in. I knew if anybody was going to get that out of him, it was going to be Coach Cuonzo.”) He reported about his regular texts from Curry during his yawningly long recovery. (“Be patient. Don’t worry about what people say about you.”) He told of scoring 65 points in a game at age 7.
He updated listeners on his shot after the 5-for-17 showing, of the importance of “shooting in the gym until I’m tired so that when I’m tired in the game it’s still a consistent jumper. Really just on my balance on my jumper. I watched a film of the last game. I was fading a lot. Everything was short. I’ve just got to stay in my shot, especially right now when I don’t have my full power, got to stay in those shots and knock them down.”
At one point, he even advised, “Fruit’s a natural anti-inflammatory, so it’s going to help you recover real quick.” That’s when he, a vegetarian “trying to go more vegan,” raised in a family with seven siblings and zero meat, started delving into the details of his banana smoothies, a knack he gleaned from a physician, Doug Graham, a friend-of-a-family-friend who actually came from England and cooked for the Porters last summer.
“I try to get, like, 10 bananas a day, and I drink bananas, just straight bananas and water. And it just helps me stay energized, so shout-out to Dr. Graham.
Is there enough time for a college legacy, for players such as Porter and Bamba, in this tournament flicker?
Reasoned Porter, “It depends on how we do in the tournament.”
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