Nov. 3, 2012
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – Yous Mbao doesn’t quite remember the date, but it was in March of 2009.
That’s the last time the 7-foot-2 center played as many minutes in a basketball game as he did in Marshall’s home exhibition victory over Bluefield on Thursday night.
“It’s been a long time,” Mbao said after he started for the Herd and played 25 minutes, scoring seven points (3-of-3 shooting) with 13 rebounds and three blocks. “I was a senior in high school.”
That was at Stoneridge Prep in Simi Valley, Calif., where the African native came to mold himself into a Division I prospect after he had really learned in the game in Spain.
Mbao’s minutes were needed, with Coach Tom Herrion sitting starting big men Nigel Spikes and Robert Goff, who is bouncing back from knee surgery.
However, Mbao’s time on the floor also was fortuitous.
“It was tremendously valuable,” Herrion said. “He knew (Wednesday) pretty much he was going to start, and he’d play extended minutes he hasn’t had that up to this point, the most since what, 3-4 years ago?
“It was really important for him to get out there and experience some positive things. I thought the jump hook early in the game was great move, great for his confidence.”
Mbao played only 50 minutes in 10 games in his freshman season at Marquette before being shut down in mid-January 2010. He had a wrist injury and then needed right knee surgery. He scored one point, with five blocks and seven rebounds.
He seemed headed to Texas, then came to Marshall not long after Herrion was hired as Herd coach, so he sat out 2010-11. Last season, the Senegalese post man averaged 6.5 minutes per game, scoring 11 points to go with 61 rebounds and 25 blocks – but he played double-figure minutes only four times.
“I got hurt at Marquette, then sat out when I came here to Marshall, and last year was about continuing to learn and getting my confidence back,” Mbao said. “This year will hopefully be a different season for me.”
There were times last season when Mbao played and Herd fans had to wonder, “What’s the Yous?” However, his development is notable and in Herrion’s deep rotation, his ability brings value to a team he helps make the tallest in Conference USA.
“Every day is an opportunity,” Mbao said postgame. “It doesn’t matter who’s out there or who’s not out there. At the end of the day when I step on the court, I’m just trying to do what Coach asks me to do. Try to focus on things to work on every day.
“Most of it is, he wants me to rebound the ball, block shots. So every day out there, I’m trying to focus on what he asks me to do to improve myself as a player and help the team. I’m really not worried about offense. I just want to get up and down the floor, get down on the block, get rebounds, play strong.”
Youssoupha Mbao now brings some strength to the floor with his smarts. He “technically didn’t learn basketball” until he moved to Spain in 2005, at age 14. He speaks five languages – English, Arabic, Spanish, French and Wolof (spoken by most of Senegal’s population, although the official language is French).
As much as anything, what speaks to his improvement on the floor is his added weight and upper body strength. He was listed at 215 pounds on the 2009-10 Marquette roster. He was 235 at the start of last season, Now, Mbao is at 249 pounds.
“I’m really pretty strong now,” Mbao said, “but obviously I still have work to do. We haven’t lifted in a while because we’ve been focused on drills, with a lot of new faces on the team, trying to get them involved, learn the system. My focus now is on getting strong and staying healthy.”
In prep school in California, Mbao played for Babacar Sy, who coached Mbao on the rudiments of the game in Senegal.
“I never played much basketball when I was home,” Mbao said. “I didn’t have a lot of chance for somebody to teach me the basics of basketball. All I knew was to rebound the ball and block shots.
“I played soccer my whole life in Senegal until I broke an ankle and I decided to quit soccer, because I was too tall for it anyway, obviously.
“I was born tall. My mom always told me that in the hospital (when he was born in Dakar) the doctor made fun of me because I was so long. I don’t know how long, never found out. My parents aren’t that tall. My dad (Mamadou Mbao) is 6-4, 6-5. My mother (Awa Seck) is about 6-foot.
“My grandfather, that’s where I get my height. He’s 7-5. Youssoupha Mbao. I’m named for him.”
Mbao, at 7-2, is believed to be the tallest player in Herd hoops history, and his family is as deep as the frontcourt Herrion takes into Friday’s 7:30 p.m. Henderson Center opener against visiting Longwood. Yous has five brothers and two sisters.
He also has more of a game for 2012-13, and Herrion wants what he’s asked Mbao to give – blocks, wingspan intimidation, rebounds, stickbacks.
“That’s very accurate,” Herrion said when told of Mbao’s list of coach’s desires. “He’s a guy who just has to play his role, he doesn’t have to be a big scorer for us. He has a big presence in there.
“He’s a good passer, and he’s obviously big player who can see over people. We want him to have a bigger defensive presence for us, because he can be an anchor. Yous is a smart player usually in the right position. He can block shots, and his size and length are pluses.
“He’s obviously put on weight, but he’s gotten significantly stronger, and there’s a difference. He’s added mass to his body and now is one of our stronger guys. He continues to get better, and we have a lot of options when we have a full deck.
“We expect Yous to continue to get better and be part of whatever rotation and role we ask of him.”
You might say the big guy is ready to be Yous-ful.