Gonzaga officially added a big piece of its 2019 recruiting class.
The Zags on Tuesday announced the signing of Oumar Ballo, a 6-foot-10, 260-pound center from Mali. He verbally committed following a campus visit in late February.
“I chose Gonzaga because I think it’s the best place for me as an international player and especially for a big man,” Ballo said in a school release. “I love the way they use their bigs. The atmosphere between the teammates always supporting each other is motivating.”
Ballo, who reportedly has a 7-6 wingspan, attended Gonzaga’s rout over Pepperdine on Feb. 21. He flew out the next morning and orally committed about 45 minutes before the Zags tipped off against BYU on Feb. 23.
Ballo is just 16 but possesses great size and long-term potential. He’s considered a top international prospect. He’s ranked No. 73 by 247sports, one of five incoming Zags rated in the top 100 by 247sports and/or ESPN.com.
“He’s going to need a little time to develop, but he has great upside,” Gonzaga assistant coach Tommy Lloyd said. “Great kid, high character. He’s definitely a ‘5’ man and has the ability to assert his will physically. He had ankle surgery and he’s getting back to full speed from that.
“He has a nice feel for the game and good hands.”
Ballo plays at the NBA Academy Latin America in Mexico City. He was one of the youngest players at the Basketball Without Borders Global Camp at this year’s NBA All-Star Weekend in Charlotte, North Carolina. He had a strong performance at the Next Generation Showcase during the Final Four in Minneapolis.
Ballo began drawing recruiting interest following a standout showing at the FIBA U16 African Championships two years ago. He averaged 21 points and 17 rebounds at the FIBA U17 World Cup last summer. In one pool-play game, he scored 32 points and collected 32 rebounds.
Lloyd kept track of Ballo before watching him in person at a basketball academy in Spain’s Canary Islands.
“He’s definitely somebody that we are looking in the future to be a cornerstone type of guy,” Lloyd said, “but he’s young and doesn’t have a lot of experience. We’ll take it slowly and see where he’s at.”
Gonzaga might lean heavily on its incoming recruits. Junior forwards Rui Hachimura, Brandon Clarke and Killian Tillie, sophomore guard Zach Norvell Jr. and freshman forward Filip Petrusev have declared for the NBA draft. Petrusev has indicated to Gonzaga’s staff that he plans on returning. Most mock drafts project Hachimura and Clarke as first-round picks.
Ballo and 6-10 Pavel Zakharov, a Russian native who played on Montverde Academy’s Center for Basketball Development (CBD) team, both reclassified from 2020 to 2019. Zakharov is rated No. 52 according to 247sports and No. 87 on ESPN’s top 100.
“I want to play in college as soon as I can, so that is why I want to reclassify to 2019,” Ballo, who is expected to arrive at GU for summer school, told The Spokesman-Review in February. “If you have a chance to play at a high level, I think it’s really cool. You can make your dreams come true, you know?”
Zakharov, like Ballo, is an international big with great potential.
Drew Timme, a 6-10 forward from Texas, and 6-9 Anton Watson, who helped Gonzaga Prepto two straight State 4A titles, appear to be ready to contribute once they arrive on campus. Timme is in 247sports’ and ESPN’s top 45. Watson is 45th and 58th, respectively.
Lithuanian Martynas Arlauskas, a 6-6 wing, was sidelined for part of his season with a stress fracture in his foot, but he’s been cleared medically and has returned to the court. Guard Brock Ravet became Washington’s all-time leading scorer while helping Kittitas High to its third consecutive State 2B title.