By JOHN SHINN
NORMAN — It’s been nearly two years since Amath M’Baye played in an official college basketball game. Since then everything has changed.
He’s left Wyoming for Oklahoma, added muscle to his lean 6-foot-9 frame. The obscurity of playing in the Mountain West has been replaced with the bright lights of the Big 12 Conference.
M’Baye is also projected as the final piece that allows the Sooners to end a three-year NCAA Tournament drought.
That’s a lot weight for any player to carry. But the junior from France doesn’t seem to mind.
“High expectations mean you’ve been doing a good job of doing what you do, so that’s the way I see it. I see it with a lot of pride,” he said. “I’m really excited people expect a lot from me. It’s a lot of pressure, but there is always going to be pressure for me in this world of basketball in college, or once you become a pro. You just have to focus on your game and helping your team the best way you can.”
M’Baye brings physical attributes OU has lacked the last two seasons. There isn’t one specific area that limited it to a 15-16 season. The Sooners had a lot of holes.
Nevertheless, adding a forward, who can score (12.0 points a game as a sophomore in 2011 at Wyoming), rebound (5.7 boards a game that season) and block shots (one a game), helps plug a lot of them. Players and coaches raved about M’Baye’s potential while he spent last season playing on the scout team due to NCAA transfer rules.
“Amath brings versatility, a great motor, great energy, (the ability to run) the floor and effort to the board. He’s just engaged all the time,” said OU coach Lon Kruger, who is entering his second season. “When you think about a player like that, and you get that many minutes that he’s going to play on the floor at that high level of competitiveness and engagement and productivity; that’s a big boost right off the top.”
That will be on display when the Sooners play their first of two exhibition games at 7 p.m. on Friday when Washburn visits Lloyd Noble Center. The athletic ability should be easy to see. M’Baye has a forward’s size, but glides like a guard. He isn’t a back-to-basket player. He can play on the perimeter.
It will help a team that possesses the Big 12’s leading-returning rebounder (Romero Osby) and scorer (Steven Pledger). However, Osby sees additional benefits from M’Baye’s presence.
“He will bring a different tone of leadership because he leads vocally and by example as well,” he said. “I think sometimes people get tired of hearing that same voice in the locker room all the time. When you have two or three guys out there who have proven themselves as leaders saying something, it’s always good for the team to have two or three guys who can be leaders. So having him in the locker room will help us as well.”
That is something M’Baye admits he was never asked to do at Wyoming. The last time he played a college basketball game, he was a scorer — plain and simple. Now, he’s in situation where the Sooners’ hopes for playing beyond the second weekend in March hinge on him scoring and doing a lot more.
M’Baye has long legs, but it’s still a giant stride he’s being asked to make. He’s had plenty of time to make the adjustment.
“I have a lot more responsibilities,” he said. ”I think my game changed in the way that I work on my skills. I worked on different aspects of the game. I’ve watched the game a lot. I’ve watched film from all of our games, our practices. I just try to make good choices and make sure I can help this team the best way.”