By John Shinn
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Last week, Oklahoma was contemplating its basketball future with Amath M’Baye as next season’s centerpiece. Wednesday, those plans changed. M’Baye announced he will forgo his senior season and enter the NBA Draft.
“I had a great time here, but I’m 23 (years old) and I’m going to be 24 soon,” M’Baye said. “I’m about to graduate in May and my plan coming to the United States was always to make sure I took care of everything from an academic standpoint. From a basketball standpoint, the fact that I’m 23 years old, I think I totally feel ready to start making a living for myself and my family.”
The decision wasn’t a complete shock to OU coach Lon Kruger, but he admitted it wasn’t one he anticipated.
“Like everyone, we were surprised. I don’t know that anyone fully anticipated Amath’s decision,” Kruger said. “But still, what he’s done over the last couple years is very simply been a terrific ambassador on the court, in the classroom, around the community. A terrific young guy that’s contributed a lot to the program. Even though we’re surprised by his decision, it doesn’t make it any less appreciative for all that he’s done and what he’s meant to the program. We wish him great things going forward.”
M’Baye averaged 10.1 points per game and 5.2 rebounds as a junior. It was his only season in a Sooner uniform. M’Baye transferred to OU from Wyoming prior to the 2011-12 season. He sat out that year due to NCAA transfer rules. M’Baye started every game this past season, but it was an inconsistent season.
He scored in double digits just 15 times in 32 games and had collected more than nine rebounds just once this season. M’Baye shot 46.1 percent from the field and 27.9 percent from 3-point range.
During OU’s three-game losing streak to end the season, M’Baye scored five points against TCU, six against Iowa State in the Big 12 tournament and eight against San Diego State in the 70-55 loss in the NCAA tournament.
After that game last week in Philadelphia, M’Baye gave no indication that he was thinking about leaving.
It turns out he had been leaning in that direction for some time.
“It was a goal of mine to leave this year even before coming here. I didn’t know how it was going to happen,” he said. “It was not like I was sure to leave when I came in here, but it was in my mind.”
One goal M’Baye has achieved is he will graduate with a degree in international relations in May. The degree, coupled with M’Baye’s age were the two biggest factors in his decision.
“I just think I’m old enough to start helping out,” M’Baye said. “My family always supported me the best they could and I know they’re counting on me to help them out.”
Turning professional likely won’t mean playing in the NBA in the immediate future. M’Baye’s physical attributes (6-foot-9, 220 pounds and very athletic) will get him into some NBA camps this summer. He might even be a second-round draft pick.
However, playing in Europe is a viable option that intrigues him.
“I’m from France and I grew up watching the Euro leagues. I’m telling you, it’s not that bad over there. Guys can make a great living for themselves and it’s a great environment to play in,” M’Baye said. “The NBA is a dream and a goal of mine, but the options aren’t that bad.”
Kruger learned M’Baye was leaning in the professional direction Monday. The two talked again on Tuesday and Wednesday morning before the official decision was made.
M’Baye intends to sign with an agent in the next few weeks. Once he does, the door will be closed on him returning to OU.
The Sooners were already prepared to head into next season needing to replace seniors Romero Osby, Steven Pledger, Sam Grooms and Andrew Fitzgerald.
OU left Philadelphia thinking another year with M’Baye would help fill the void. Kruger believes another year at OU would lift M’Baye’s draft stock.
“That would be my opinion,” the coach said. “But he’s got to want to be here. He’s got to approach it with enthusiasm and the right frame of mind. And if he wants to be somewhere else, as indicated by Amath, we respect that and understand that. I don’t think it’s healthy for either if it’s not something he really wants to do.”
Follow me @john_shinn
For local news and more, subscribe to The Norman Transcript Smart Edition, or our print edition.