Louisville basketball: Cards may have found a local hidden gem in 2021

DURHAM, NC - FEBRUARY 21: Ray Spalding #13 of the Louisville basketball program blocks a shot by Wendell Carter Jr #34 of the Duke Blue Devils during their game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on February 21, 2018 in Durham, North Carolina. Duke won 82-56. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
DURHAM, NC - FEBRUARY 21: Ray Spalding #13 of the Louisville basketball program blocks a shot by Wendell Carter Jr #34 of the Duke Blue Devils during their game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on February 21, 2018 in Durham, North Carolina. Duke won 82-56. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images) /

Some may call it a reach but one of Chris Mack’s latest offers could turn out to be the hidden gem of the class for Louisville basketball.

It’s very rare, I mean VERY RARE, that the Louisville basketball finds themselves ever being the first to offer a recruit. In the world of recruiting, by the time most high major programs get involved and offer a scholarship, multiple low and mid-major schools have spent time identifying and building a relationship with a player. From there, a player’s recruitment grows based on the talent evaluators see on the floor and the number of offers said player receives.

For Chris Mack’s latest forward offer, the recruiting tactics have been a little bit backward compared to how we normally see things go. Instead of getting involved later, the Cards were the first Division I program to offer Mouhamed Lamine Mbaye.

Good luck trying to find anything about Mouhamed Lamine Mbaye, as he literally is the definition of a hidden gem. Even after a junior season where he averaged 11 points and seven rebounds playing for local prep school, ASPIRE Academy, and caught the attention of several schools, no scholarship offers came, and neither did any sort of recruiting buzz. As of today (5/12), Mbaye still has no recruiting profile on any major site; however that should change soon.

While Mbaye began to emerge as a college-level big man playing for former Louisville student manager, Jeremy Kipness, he began building a relationship with Coach Mack and the Cardinal staff, which eventually led to an unofficial visit to campus for the matchup on senior night against Virginia Tech.

Read now: New name emerges on the wing for Chris Mack in 2021

That relationship led Mack to extended the first scholarship offer to Mbaye, and now there’s a legit chance that the ASPIRE combo forward could be a Cardinal. Kipness told Michael McCammon of Cardinal Authority (247 Sports):

"“They’ve been on him from the beginning. They love his versatility. Defensively, he’s able to guard the three, four or five and his ability to shoot the ball stretches the floor. A lot of schools have been reaching out to him, recruiting him, but Louisville is the first to really pull the plug.”"

If you listen to the people who have seen Mbaye up close in person, they’ll tell that the ranking (or lack thereof) isn’t an issue and Louisville may in fact be finding one of, if not the, biggest hidden gem in the class of 2021.

Mbaye has only been playing the game of basketball for four years but has experienced more than a lot of recruits ranked higher, showing just a glimpse of the potential he has moving forward. According to an article written by Jacob Polacheck of ZagsBlog.com, the Dakar, Senegal native has already played on the nation’s U-18 and U-19 teams where he’s gotten plenty of international experience playing 16 minutes per game and putting up averages of 6.6 points and 3.6 rebounds. He also took part in the 2019 NBA All-Star weekend where he represented Team Africa at the NBA Basketball Without Borders Camp.

After playing his first season at ASPIRE, Mbaye was set to play on the AAU Circuit for Under Armour program SI Select before the pandemic caused the cancellation of the 2020 schedule. That didn’t stop SI Select Program Co-Director Sam Swinford from gushing over the combo forward:

"“Mo is unlike any player I’ve ever had. He’s so skilled, so long, so athletic, but what sets him apart is his motor and his work ethic. Pair those intangibles with his elite character and he’s a no brainer for any high-major school.”"

Even while being extremely raw, Mbaye has continued to grow his game and add to an expanding repertoire, that with more time and proper development could become dangerous at the next level. He’s a skilled forward with good size at 6’8, 215-pounds who displays the ability to score both inside around the rim, while also stretching the floor and knocking down mid-range, and three-point shots at a high clip. Not to mention anyone and everyone who has been around him raves on about his elite motor, work ethic, and just how good of a kid he is.

He’s a versatile player who could easily play three positions at the college level, which of course, is a huge reason why Mack and the Cards became the first program to pull the trigger on an offer.

Richard Gatewood, who coaches at ASPIRE Academy told me:

"“His potential is through the roof; he’s a 6’8 big-time athlete, stretch four who shoots it well from three, with an unbelievable motor. He’s still a little raw but has a ton of upside and will be a pro at some level. He’s a ‘Chris Mack type dude’; elite defender who can guard 1-5.”"

Taking a player like Mbaye may be a bit of a gamble for Chris Mack, especially considering he’s already working on developing guys like Aidan Igiehon and JJ Traynor, but it’s one that could pay off in a major way.

Also read: Chris Mack pursuing rising 2021 point guard

This isn’t the first time the Cards have gotten in on an under the radar prep player with international ties. Remember, both Gorgui Dieng and Mangok Mathiang came into the Louisville program with little known about them and less than stellar recruiting rankings (Gorgs ended up as a four-star). Both were very raw and new to the game of basketball, but potential that was through the roof. They were both project players, who developed into crucial parts of several successful teams that won a lot of basketball games and went on to play in the NBA.

As Coach Gatewood said, you can with the right coaching, in the right fit, and with time, Mbaye could be a very good college basketball player. Louisville should have five scholarships available in the class, with one already being occupied by four-star Bryce Hopkins. My guess is they’ll look to land at least one point guard, one scoring guard, two combo forwards, and a big man.

With Louisville getting in on the ground floor before anyone else even offers (although Cincinnati, Iona, and Rutgers have expressed some form of interest) it wouldn’t be shocking to see things stretch out over the coming months. However, if Mack truly believes this is the guy, don’t be shocked to see them push for a commitment sooner rather than later.

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There may be more talented players on the board for 2021, but I’m not sure how many of them have the upside and ceiling that is there with a player who has only played the game of basketball for four short years.