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Gonzaga freshman center Oumar Ballo ruled academic redshirt for 2019-20 season

UPDATED: Mon., Oct. 28, 2019

Oumar Ballo flexes after being introduced during Kraziness in the Kennel festivities Oct. 5. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Oumar Ballo flexes after being introduced during Kraziness in the Kennel festivities Oct. 5. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Freshman center Oumar Ballo’s debut for Gonzaga has been pushed back a year.

Ballo, nicknamed “Baby Shaq” because of his hulking 6-foot-10, 260-pound frame at a young age, has been ruled an academic redshirt by the NCAA, according to a GU release.

The ruling means Ballo, 17, won’t participate in games this season. The native of Mali is enrolled at Gonzaga, on scholarship and practicing with the team.

Ballo will have four seasons of eligibility beginning next fall.

“Oumar is a tremendous young man and an intelligent student,” Zags coach Mark Few said. “International academic eligibility can be complicated. He will be a significant asset to our program. This is an opportunity for him to become a highly successful student-athlete.”

Gonzaga will not appeal the NCAA’s decision, athletic director Mike Roth said.

“Oumar is a great young man,” Roth said. “We’re confident he will be a terrific student-athlete, and we appreciate all of the work done by the NCAA staff.”

The issue centered on Ballo’s academic background. He left Mali at age 11 to attend Canterbury International Basketball Academy (CIBA), a private British school in Spain’s Canary Islands. Ballo later attended the NBA Academy Latin America in Mexico City and earned his high school diploma.

Ballo developed into a top international prospect the last few years before committing to Gonzaga last February.

Roth confirmed earlier this month that Ballo hadn’t been cleared by the NCAA, explaining at the time that GU submitted paperwork to the NCAA but there were numerous challenges throughout the process.

N’Faly Dante, a 6-foot-11 center from Mali, announced nearly two weeks ago that he would enroll at Oregon in mid December because he hadn’t been cleared by the NCAA. Dante, a five-star recruit, will miss at least the first nine games as he awaits an NCAA ruling.

Ballo’s absence cuts into the Zags’ frontcourt depth, but they still have five bigs. The presumed starters are senior Killian Tillie, who is expected to return soon from an Oct. 3 knee surgery, and sophomore Filip Petrusev.

Anton Watson, a 6-8 freshman from Gonzaga Prep, started in the Michigan State scrimmage with Tillie on the mend. Drew Timme, a 6-10, 235-pound freshman from Texas, has been impressive, and he’s expected to be in the rotation. Pavel Zakharov, a 6-11, 235-pound freshman, played quality minutes against the Spartans.

Ballo has great potential, but he’s young and essentially a newcomer to NCAA basketball.

Asked about Ballo’s situation at Kraziness in the Kennel in early October, Few said, “Like with anything, it takes time submitting the NCAA paperwork and all that. But he needs time on the court, too. He has a lot of learning and catching up to do. It’ll all probably come together at the right time.”

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