NORMAN — Oklahoma forward Amath M’Baye and the University of Oklahoma announced Wednesday that the junior will forgo his senior season of eligibility to enter the NBA Draft.
His decision wasn’t made for want of fame or money.
Well, maybe a little bit for money — but that’s because after being taken care of by his mother and grandmother as a young boy in Senegal, Africa, and Bordeaux, France, M’Baye decided it was time for him to support his family.
“I don’t think I’m old,” M’Baye said after referencing multiple times that he is 23 and about to be 24. “I think I’m old enough to start helping out.” M’Baye will graduate in May with a degree in International Studies.
From a basketball standpoint, it isn’t the decision Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger would have likely made if he were M’Baye. Kruger, who now will have to fill two post positions with M’Baye’s announcement and the graduation of Romero Osby, said Wednesday that M’Baye could have gained experience from another year of college basketball.
M’Baye averaged 10.1 points and 5.2 rebounds and garnered third-team All-Big 12 and Big 12 All-Rookie Team honors. Yet in his final game of the regular season, he sat on the bench in the second half due to his inability to stop the Big 12’s worst team from making backdoor cuts and drives to the hoop. The biggest news he made in the last month, before the NBA announcement, was when he jammed an alley-oop at Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas, and then flashed the horns down to Texas fans. The Sooners, who were ahead by 22 points with M’Baye’s jam, ended up losing the game in overtime.
“Well, that’s easy for me to say,” Kruger said of M’Baye’s potential benefits of another year of college ball. “Of course, that would be my opinion but still, he’s got to want to be here. He’s got to approach it with enthusiasm and the right frame of mind. 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.” M’Baye approached Kruger two days before the official announcement with the possibility of his departure.
“I think the first time he came to us to talk about it, he said, ‘I’m 99 percent sure I want to do this,’” Kruger said. “That 1 percent didn’t leave us a lot of negotiation or communication opportunity but still understand his desires and respect that and wish him the best.”
Kruger, like many Oklahoma fans and media, were surprised by the decision, but it isn’t one M’Baye said he made out of haste. “I’ve been thinking about it for a while,” M’Baye said. “It’s not just that I woke up this morning and decided I was leaving.”
Yet, as he wrapped up his interview with the media, a group of teammates stood around listening to his thoughts on his decision. Some of them found out over the past couple days. Some found out Wednesday. As he walked away from the group, M’Baye wrapped his arms around his good friend and Oklahoma walk-on James Fraschilla.
“I’m going to miss you, buddy,” he said to Fraschilla. They walked off hugging with their arms around each others’ shoulders.
M’Baye will narrow his search for an agent in the coming weeks. There is a chance that if he doesn’t choose an agent by the NBA’s early entry deadline of April 28, he could return to OU. Asked of that, M’Baye said that he had made his decision and he wasn’t coming back.
When asked, M’Baye said he wasn’t sure what his draft stock was, but smiled when the questions turned to NBA’s European League. “I mean, I’m from France,” he said.
The thought of playing in Europe wouldn’t faze the Sooners’ former forward. He grew up in a third-world country where he watched his mother struggle to find money and put food on the table, where there were no luxuries and where the electricity shut off because there wasn’t enough power to charge the whole city.
As the reality set in, M’Baye’s decision seemed to shock and stun his teammates. Kruger said the Sooners were disappointed more for what M’Baye was going to miss out on in the next year, “than for the team.”