For a guy known for his high-flying dunks. Muhammed Kora certainly seems to be flying too far under the recruiting radar.
Kora, who goes by “Mo,” is a key reason Lindbergh High School should be considered a contender in this week’s Class 2A state boys basketball tournament at the Yakima Valley SunDome.
The 6-foot-5 senior averages 17.7 points, 11.1 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 2.3 blocks for the Eagles, who are No. 4 in the WIAA’s final RPI rankings and have a shot at what would be only the second state trophy in program history. Lindbergh placed fifth in 2012 after reaching the semifinals.
The Eagles (23-3) play No. 12 Lakewood (15-9) Wednesday at 7:15 p.m. in an elimination game. They had a 15-game win streak snapped by White River in a regional game Saturday, 71-56. It was their first Class 2A loss of the season — they had beaten White River 61-60 in overtime three weeks earlier — with the other setbacks coming against Sumner and Inglemoor, both Class 4A regional qualifiers.
In addition to regularly filling up a stat sheet, Kora also regularly delivers a dazzling dunk or two.
“It seems like every other game he has a highlight dunk or alley-oop that brings the whole place down,” Lindbergh coach Michael Guimond said.
And gives his teammates a major lift.
“It’s definitely a momentum starter,” senior Brian Pocaigue said. “We could have things not going our way, and it just takes that one little play of him just jumping in the air that gets us going, and brings us back together.”
Kora, a two-time, all-SPSL first-team selection, can also nail game-changing three-pointers and has a well-rounded game that will transition to the college level, Guimond believes — especially now that he is becoming more aggressive and attacking the basket more often.
“If he’s attacking the basket, there are very few people who are able to stop him,” the second-year coach said, adding he has definitely been under-recruited. “There are guys all across the state who are getting scholarships or have already received offers who are lesser players in nearly every regard than Muhammed.”
His parents are natives of The Gambia, and his father later lived in Europe and came to the United States in the 1980s to establish a livelihood to accommodate his wife and two young children. They joined him in 2007, when Mo was 6 and his sister just a baby (a brother and another sister followed in 2010 and 2017, respectively).
Both parents worked long hours and Mo had many household responsibilities early on, including taking care of his sister. Always tall for his age (but skinny — “my Mom used to say I had chicken legs,” he said), Mo found an outlet playing basketball on an outdoor court near their home. But he didn’t start playing organized basketball until eighth grade and didn’t add summer basketball until after his sophomore year.
“As soon as I saw I could be good at it, I started pushing it more,” he said.
Switching to the Running Start program as a junior not only helped him academically (going from a C+ to B+ average), and allowed Kora more flexibility to work on his game. As a junior, he averaged 16.2 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.2 blocks.
Guimond, formerly an assistant at Bonney Lake, had taken over as coach just three weeks before the start of the season and Lindbergh finished 11-11. Having a full offseason program helped make a difference this year, the coach said.
“We had more time together and more time to buy into the system,” Guimond said. “In general, I think the biggest difference between last year and this year is I feel there is a more established trust between the players and the coaches.”
Defense has been a forte with opponents averaging just 47.2 points during the regular season.
Cutting down the nets after the SPSL and West Central District championships was on Lindbergh’s list of goals, and Kora believes he and his teammates can do it again this week.
“If we come with our best game, I think we can win state and cut down another net,” he said.
5 things to watch
Fill it up: The Class 1A girls tournament features two of the best all-time scorers in state history. Cashmere senior Hailey Van Lithe broke the girls record last month and has 2,919 points. Annie Wright junior Julianna Walker will have a shot at the record next season as she comes in with 2,376 points (14th on the list).
Seattle Academy redemption: After going 0-2 as a No. 5 seed in last year’s Class 1A tournament with a super-young squad, the Cardinals (23-1) come in at No. 1 and hope to win their first state title.
Lynden boys threepeat?: The top-seeded Lions (22-2) could become the first Class 2A team (boys or girls) to win three consecutive championships. They also won in 2012 and 2007 (and own six 1A titles).
The King’s hardware: The Knights earned their eighth straight trophy last year after coming in as the No. 10 seed, upsetting No. 1 Lynden Christian in the quarterfinals and finishing third. They are No. 14 in this year’s field and open against No. 3 Zillah, the defending champ.
New 2A girls champ: After winning their first state title last year (as the No. 7 seed), the Washougal Panthers (20-4) failed to qualify for this year’s Class 2A tourney. The LaSalle girls are back to defending their 1A crown.