NORMAN — Amath M'Baye stood in the practice gym at Lloyd Noble Center and passed the ball to his mom.
Both of them were laughing as she shot a basket.
It's not often they get to spend time together, mother and son.
But what matters to both right now is that for three weeks, Dominique Ba will be there to watch and support M'Baye as the 6-foot-9 forward plays in home and road games for the Oklahoma basketball team. At least after his first road game against UT Arlington, his mother knows she won't have to wait until her son reads his email after the game to know he's heard her critiques.
Amath M'Baye took an unusual path to Norman. He was born in Bourdeaux, France, where he lived with his mother and grandmother. But when he was 7 or 8 years old, he and his mother moved to Dakar, Senegal. That's where his father was.
“From my point of view, it was important for him to know the two countries,” Ba said through the help of her son's translation, “because he was born in France and his first years he spent in France but I wanted to know the other side of his person, Africa. That was important. Now he knows that and that is constructive for him.”
Living in Senegal wasn't easy for M'Baye.
“It was a rough part of my life,” M'Baye said. “It was tough to put food on the table. My mom worked hard every day just to find a way to put food on the table.”
He did get to watch his father play basketball. And the encouraging personality that his teammates today see was evident even then.
Young M'Baye thought that tapping others on their rear was a way of telling them they did a good job. After all, that's what his father did when a teammate helped him in a game.
So walking the streets of Senegal one day, M'Baye and his mother came across a police officer when M'Baye reached up and tapped him on the behind.
“Good job,” little M'Baye said as he kept walking with his mom. His mother still smiles today when recalling the memory — and her son's positivity.
She says he's the “sunshine of her life.” She has a tattoo on her left arm with his name and a sun.
“He's perfect,” she said with a thick French accent.
The son smiled.
For the last year, her son has been touted as the perfect piece to the Sooners' puzzle.
After playing at Stoneridge Prep in Simi Valley, Calif., M'Baye started his collegiate career from Wyoming, where he weighed only 180 pounds despite being 6-foot-8. He played there as a freshman and sophomore before transferring to Oklahoma, where he sat out last season because of NCAA transfer rules.
In his Oklahoma debut Sunday, M'Baye had a game-high nine rebounds, two blocks and 12 points in 22 minutes against Louisiana-Monroe. He also had three dunks.
While he might now be the piece the Sooners have been needing, M'Baye didn't exactly fit in during his childhood, especially after he and his mother moved back to France when M'Baye was a teenager.
“First, I was the weirdly dressed French kid in Africa,” M'Baye said. “Then I was the funny-dressed African kid back in France. Then I came to America and it was back to being the funny-dressed French kid again.”
In Oklahoma, M'Baye's personality has stood out. He loves to joke. He's always polite. And he doesn't mind calling himself the “best looking” of the team, which always sparks some interesting conversation with his teammates.
Although he's here in America, ready to finally have the chance to help Oklahoma in a true road test, he's still that kid who encourages his teammates and puts his arm around them in the huddle when he can tell they need to be lifted up.
That's just who Amath M'Baye is — it's his life, he said, that's shaped him. Ba said he's still her “same baby,” the sunshine of her life. And now, he's finally getting to rise as the light to an Oklahoma team whose postseason light has been dimmed recently.