On Thursday morning the Cincinnati Bearcats added to their 2011 recruiting class by signing 6-foot10 225lb PF Cheikh Mdodj of Dakar, Senegal via Grayson County Community College in Denison, Texas.
Ibrahima Thomas was a big reason why Mbodji signed with Cincinnati.
Grayson County CC head coach Pat Rafferty was a former Denny Crum assistant at Louisville, and before he talked about the talents on the court of the big man that has come to be known as “Shaq”, he wanted to emphasize how good of a young man UC is getting off the court as well.
“First and foremost he's a terrific kid,” Rafferty said. “You have guys that come and go, and then you have guys like him that really enrich your life and the players around him. It reinforces all of the good reasons you wanted to be in coaching.
As for what he brings on the court, his game sounds very similar to the player he is likely replacing in fellow Dakar, Senegal native Ibrahima Thomas. Mbodj averaged 16 points and 8 rebounds a game on his way to being named Co-Conference Player of the Year this season.
“He's really versatile,” said Rafferty. “He's kind of a hybrid four. He's long, he can defend out on the floor and do a nice job. He can pass it and shoot it and dribble it a little bit and still have somewhat of an inside presence with rebounding ability and shot blocking abilities.”
Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin has known about Mbodji since his arrival in the Unites States two and a half years ago, and Rafferty feels he can step right in and help the Bearcats on the court.
“He's a unique guy, and I know he's going to get better and better under Mick and the situation they have there,” Rafferty said. “I think he's going to bring some versatility and plug in well with the pieces they've got coming back. He'll really be able to compliment those guys and what they're trying to do.”
Thomas was a major factor in the process as he shared with “Shaq” his experiences as a Bearcat to make the recruit feel comfortable.
“It helped from a variety of standpoints because those Senegalese kids are really close, and especially the kids that come from the SEEDS Academy in Senegal,” said Rafferty. “They're close and they communicate with each other even though they are scattered throughout the country so it was huge.”
It was those stories shared by Thomas that made the situation more real for Mbodj, as they pertained to life both on and off the court.
“He had a very positive reception of Coach Cronin, the way he's been treated and the way he's been developed and how he's been cared for,” Rafferty said. “Not only as a basketball player, but as a student and a human being and that was important to Shaq.”
Assistant coach Darren Savino and Cronin put in a lot of hours working towards this commitment, and that was also a heavy influence in the decision.
“The job Darren did as far as being the lead guy on it,” said Rafferty. “Mick was enormous. Mick embraced recruiting him from the get go, and actually Mick was one of the first people to see him since he came to the states a couple years ago. Mick established that initially and to have a head coach assume that big of a role in the recruiting process was enormous.”
Cincinnati now has six players for their 2011 recruiting class: 6-2 South Kent (Conn.) point guard Ge’lawn Guyn, 6-2 Huntington (WV) Prep combo guard Jeremiah Davis, 6-7 NIA Prep wing Shaquille Thomas, 6-9 Memphis Whitehaven power forward Octavius Ellis and 6-5 Manhattan Rice wing Jermaine Sanders