It’s a reunion in Tucson for Arizona Basketball Head Coach Tommy Lloyd, big man Oumar Ballo, and Ben Mathurin, so we took time to learn a little more about Baby Shaq!
Coming off a heartbreaking loss in the NCAA Championship game, Gonzaga big man Oumar Ballo decided to enter the transfer portal. And as fate would have it, Arizona Basketball parted ways with then-head coach Sean Miller and subsequently hired Tommy Lloyd, the coach who recruited Ballo to Gonzaga. As you can imagine, it was a simple decision for the both of them to reunite!
Coach Lloyd added a big man nicknamed Baby Shaq, who knows his style, and adversely, Ballo knows what Lloyd demands out of his players.
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For those that don’t know, Ballo is an international player that feels comfortable with Lloyd’s leadership, and together, the two go pretty far back. On top of that, Ballo is also very close to current Wildcat Ben Mathurin. The two were not only teammates but roommates at the NBA Academy Latin America.
After Ballo announced his commitment to Arizona, Mathurin, who is projected to be a Top 20 pick in the NBA Draft for 2022, decided to return to Arizona to play his sophomore year!
Here’s a little background about Ballo and what he accomplished at a young age:
Ballo helped Mali clinch their first-ever title at the FIBA U18 African Championship in 2018 at home, booking their third ticket to the U19 World Cup and second straight… In addition to helping Mali win the U18 African crown, Ballo also was named to the All-Star Five as Mali claimed the Title at the FIBA U16 African Championship 2017 – the country’s first trophy at that age group which gave them back-to-back appearances at the FIBA U17 Basketball World Cup
Yes, Ballo is from Mali, and his addition excited former Wildcat Mo Tangara who is also from Mali. We reached out to Mo, and he can’t wait to get to know his former countryman better and is happy it all came together well. Mo was working with Lute Olson on camps for young players and has a lot of experience, he speaks French as well, the official language of Mali.
We got a chance to catch up with Oumar before he lands in Tucson, so that Wildcat fans can get to know him a bit more and what he feels Arizona will need to win games. Here our interview with Ballo:
ZZ: Do you like the nickname Baby Shaq? How tall are you and how much do you weigh?
OB: Yes I do like it, it was given to me since I was 15 years old. I’m 7-feet tall and weigh 255 pounds.
ZZ: Are you looking forward to coming to Tucson and playing in McKale Center? Have you played there before?
OB: Yes, I’m looking forward for Tucson’s beautiful weather. I have been there last year, it was fun, I’m so excited to see the fans out there.
ZZ: Tell us about coach Lloyd and what qualities you think players will like? What fun things does he like to do?
OB: He’s a fun coach to be around, one fun thing he likes to do is trying to speak every foreign language.
ZZ: So how did it feel being in the NCAA Championship game and not being called to play? It must have been fun but difficult! And was that when you knew you wanted to transfer?
OB: First of all, I’m blessed to experience that stage and I know how it feels, it feels great, I want to experience it again with Arizona. Not being able to play was something out my control. I was just worried about what I can control which was to stay ready whenever team needs me.
ZZ: Do you think the transition to Arizona will be easier for you since you are familiar with Lloyds coaching style? Do you have friends on the team?
OB: Yes, I’ve known him since 2017 so I’m pretty familiar with him. Yes, I have friends on the team. Ben [Mathurin] was my roommate in high school, I know Christian [Koloko], and I also know Kerr [Kriisa].
ZZ: What should the Wildcats fans know about you?
OB: I like making big time plays to get the crowd going either blocking shots or dunking the ball. I’m pretty sure they are gonna love watching us at McKale Center during the season.
ZZ: Tell me about yourself? Family? Brothers and sisters? Who inspires you?
OB: I’m the youngest brother of four sons. My mom is the one who really does inspire me.
ZZ: Have you ever played any other sport? Do you have talents outside of basketball?
OB: I first played soccer as a goalkeeper and defender. Outside of basketball, I like to play FIFA [Soccer video game].
ZZ: What did you learn from Coach Few that will stay with you for a long time and help you at Arizona?
OB: On the defensive end, I learned how to guard a ball screen and vertically contest, I got those from him and that will help me and help the team.
ZZ: What special ingredient did Gonzaga have that Arizona Basketball needs to finally get back to the Final Four and Championship game?
OB: As Zags, we play for each other, the ball movement and the pace that we run our sets are a big part of Gonzaga’s success. If we have a good team chemistry and play for each other I’m pretty confident that we will be competing on big stages.
ZZ: Now just some fun stuff:
Favorite musical artist and song?
OB: My favorite food is Mac & Cheese with steak.
I like hip-hop music.
Favorite artist Pop Smoke, favorite songs Dior and Invisible by Pop Smoke.
ZZ: Any message for Wildcats fans?
OB: I’m so excited to see Wildcats fans at McKale Center, Let’s have a fun year and Bear Down!
Wonder what next great surprise is in store Arizona Basketball fans? We know one thing for sure, Oumar Ballo is coming to Tucson to play!!