As a kid, Mohamed Bamba grew quickly. Not just in height — he’s 7 feet tall with an NBA Draft Combine-record 7-10 wingspan — but as a person.
“When you’re coming up in Harlem, you’re forced to grow up a lot faster than most kids would,” Bamba told reporters at the Grand Hyatt New York during Wednesday’s media availability ahead of Thursday’s 2018 NBA Draft at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
Bamba, projected by many major media outlets to be selected between pick Nos. 5 and 7, opted to leave his neighborhood after elementary school. He told The Undefeated that, where he was raised, “you’re forced to make decisions that most 11-, 12- and 13-year-olds don’t really face.”
“I kind of pushed the agenda with it,” Bamba said. “My parents, surprisingly, were very OK with it.”
Through The Fresh Air Fund, a nonprofit that connects New York City kids from low-income families with volunteer host families in the country, Bamba lived in upstate New York for two weeks. From there, he discovered boarding schools outside the city were where he wanted to be.
Bamba’s educational path eventually led him to Westtown School in Pennsylvania, where he became a McDonald’s All-American in 2017. After one NCAA season at Texas, posting averages of 12.9 points, 10.4 rebounds and 3.7 blocks, he decided to turn pro.
The most likely NBA landing spots for Bamba appear to be the Dallas Mavericks (No. 5) — just a three-hour drive from where he went to college at the University of Texas in Austin — and Orlando Magic (No. 6). That would put him outside the reach of his hometown Knicks, who hold the ninth selection.
The 20-year-old did not work out for the team during the pre-draft process, so it would be a surprise if he called Madison Square Garden home next season. In the unlikely event he does wind up in blue and orange, Bamba thinks “playing back home would be pretty cool.”
“I wasn’t a die-hard Knicks fan, but being from New York it kind of hurts to pick up a paper and see the Knicks lost,” Bamba said, referring to the team’s on-court struggles during his youth. He called the 2010 arrival of Amar’e Stoudemire that led to the franchise’s best period of the 21st century “big for the city.”
Although his basketball and scholastic journey has taken him to various stops throughout the country — and likely will send him somewhere other than the Big Apple — Bamba still identifies as a Harlem kid at heart.
“At the end of the day, this is where I call home,” he said.