By Jon Rothstein
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Amath M’Baye might be the most impactful newcomer in college basketball that no one really knows about.
The 6-9 forward started his career at Wyoming and led the Cowboys in rebounding in 2011 before he transferred to Oklahoma. Now with two seasons of eligibility remaining, M’Baye seems primed to play a major role for the Sooners during the upcoming season.
“He got as much out of the transfer year as anyone I’ve even been around,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said of M’Baye, who averaged 12 points and 5.7 rebounds per game in 2010-11 at Wyoming. “He’s been great. He’s a really versatile player that can attack you in a number of ways.”
The addition of M’Baye should also give Kruger a potential secondary offensive option to take pressure off guard Steven Pledger, who led the Sooners in scoring last year at 16.2 points per game.
“Steven’s a terrific shooter and he’s got a great feel,” Kruger said of Pledger, who shot an impressive 41.6% from three-point range last season as a junior. “But now with Amath, he’s got someone who can help him. Amath’s got an interesting game in the sense that he’s most comfortable in that mid range area. He knows how to find seams in the defense and get baskets.”
“He’s a first round pick,” a Division One coach that’s familiar with M’Baye’s game said. “There’s no doubt.”
With M’Baye and fellow seniors Romero Osby and Andrew Fitzgerald, Kruger has three capable players that should be able to match up with most front courts in the Big 12. Osby led Oklahoma in rebounding last year at 7.3 per game and tallied seven double-doubles.
Heady play maker Sam Grooms returns at point guard and Cameron Clark is also back after showing flashes of being a capable scorer as a sophomore. Now a junior, the 6-6 Clark scored in double figures in five of the Sooners final seven games in 2011-12. Kruger also brings in three talented freshmen guards — Buddy Hield, Je’lon Hornbeak, and Isaiah Cousins that should all be in the mix for major minutes immediately.
“The thing I like about our freshmen class is they come from winning pedigree,” Kruger said. “They expect to have success.”
While Hornbeak could possibly push Grooms at point guard and Cousins figures to play both back court spots, Hield may have the biggest chance out of this trio to make a big splash thanks to his ability to score.
The 6-3 guard averaged almost three 3-pointers a game as a high school senior and has an uncanny knack to put defenders on their heels.
“His mentality is to score,” Kruger said of Hield. “He can really fill things up in a hurry.”
With this triumvirate of freshmen on the perimeter plus M’Baye, Kruger has four quality players to add to five returning starters. While Oklahoma only managed to win five games in conference play last season, doubling that total doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibility if everything breaks right.
“Our depth will be much different,” Kruger said. “We have more guys that can play now and the competition for time will be really, really good. We should be a tough, rangy athletic type of team.”
One that has all the requisites to make a jump in the Big 12.
What’s your prediction for Oklahoma? Be heard in the comments below!