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Gonzaga freshman center Oumar Ballo waiting on NCAA eligibility decision

UPDATED: Sat., Oct. 5, 2019, 8:20 p.m.

Oumar Ballo is introduced during festivities Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019 at Kraziness in the Kennel at Gonzaga University. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Oumar Ballo is introduced during festivities Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019 at Kraziness in the Kennel at Gonzaga University. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Gonzaga freshman center Oumar Ballo will participate in Saturday’s Kraziness in the Kennel, but the Zags are waiting for a determination on his eligibility this season.

Ballo hasn’t yet been cleared by the NCAA, according to athletic director Mike Roth.

“He’s practicing, fully enrolled and all of that stuff,” Roth said. “It’s just some hoops we’re jumping through. We’re just waiting.

“We’re moving ahead positively. On our end, we have everything (paperwork) in Indianapolis (at NCAA headquarters). The reality is we’re basketball and football stuff has to get sorted out before they start with basketball.”

The hold-up centers on Ballo’s academic background. The native of Mali left home at age 11 to pursue a basketball career. He attended Canterbury International Basketball Academy (CIBA) in Spain’s Canary Islands. Ballo didn’t speak English but began learning the language with classes conducted in English at the private British school.

Ballo continued his education at NBA Academy Latin America in Mexico City, earning his high school diploma. He found his way onto Gonzaga’s recruiting radar two years ago at the FIBA U16 African Championships. He reclassified to move from the 2020 to 2019 class and committed to the Zags last February.

“I want to play in college as soon as I can, so that is why I want to reclassify to 2019,” Ballo said at the time. “If you have a chance to play at a high level, I think it’s really cool. You can make your dreams come true, you know?”

The 17-year-old Ballo arrived on campus late, shortly after the beginning of fall classes.

“That was related to this, the academic piece,” Roth said. “You can’t just get a Visa without having some of these things in order.”

Ballo has been a standout at international competitions. He was named to the All-Star Five at the FIBA U19 World Cup this summer after Mali made history with a second-place finish behind the United States. Ballo had 15 points, seven rebounds and three blocks in the title game.

Ballo is expected to compete for time in GU’s frontcourt behind probable starters Killian Tillie and Filip Petrusev. Other options include freshmen Drew Timme, Anton Watson and Pavel Zakharov.

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