Kevin Stallings in the in the process of a complete overhaul of the Panthers’ basketball roster. Despite adding six 2017 prospects, he may soon be adding a seventh prospect with tremendous potential as Pitt will host 2017 Florida Prep Academy center Cheikh (pronounced CHIK) Mbacke Dione (6-foot-10 inches, 210 pounds) on an official visit this weekend. His coaches and teammates simply call him ‘Mbacke’. A native of Senegal, he has been in the United States less than a year. Within the last several months, interest in the lengthy center has exploded and a number of upper majors, including Pitt, Connecticut and Louisville, have flown to Florida to meet him.
To gain perspective on Mbacke, Pittsburgh Sports Now spoke with Florida Prep Academy assistant coach Pete Munch.
“He came over to us this year. He hasn’t been in the United States for a full year. He arrived here in July. He immediately started growing on us. He’s just a great kid, “said Munch. “Even when we have district games, he has his own little fan base. He has people that want to take pictures with him, he plays one on one games with little children, and he’s just a special kid. He’s got that ‘it’ about him off the count that really helps in on the court.”
“When you get him on the court, he’s more than just a rim runner and shot block, he’s a great passer, he runs the floor like a deer and he understands the game well. The language barrier isn’t that hard for him, especially in basketball terms. He picks things up very well. He has a great feel for the game. Some people may want to dissect his game, but once he gets to college and puts in the work on the court and in the weight room, his game is going to explode.”
Pitt, for quite some time, has been a basketball team in desperate need of size. The lack of a true center has forced a number of players to play out of position. A pair of 6-foot-10 players have already joined the Panthers’ 2017 recruiting class: 6-foot-10 inch, 235 pound center Peace Ilegomah from Montverde (FL) Academy & 6-foot-10 inch, 225 pound power forward/center Terrell Brown from the Tilton School (NH).
Coach Munch clearly believes that Mbacke has yet to reach his vast potential. “Mbacke is very versatile. He has great passing ability, He’s got a nice jump hook, left and right shoulder, he can consistently step out from 10 to 12 feet right now and inconsistently 15 to 17 feet. He’s going to be a special player because of his worth ethic, his drive and his versatility as a 4 (power forward) or 5 (center).”
The Panthers’ coaching staff has been scouring the nation for talented big men throughout the season. It appears that the situation that led them to Mbacke was a big different.
“We started to reach out to schools. When Mbacke arrived here he wasn’t on anyone’s recruiting database and nobody had heard of him,” he said. “We started to reach out to colleges and let them know that we had a very special player. We told them we had a kid that could really play. It wasn’t until around mid to early January when Coach (Kevin) Sutton came down to see him. It didn’t take long for Pitt to be hooked on him. Beyond Pitt, once schools got to see him, it was almost out of our hands. A lot of colleges started to call us instead of us reaching out to them.”
Pitt appears to be trending favorably for Mbacke. Coach Munch was asked about the potential for a verbal commitment this weekend, he stated, “I picked him up to take him to the airport at 4:30AM this morning. He was exceptionally excited about the visit. I actually arrived early and he was out the door waiting for me.”
“He didn’t know what to expect but he was very excited. I think Pitt’s chances are very good. He wants to go to a schools where he can contribute as a freshman. He wants to go to a program where he can grow and develop as a player and in talks with Coach Sutton, we really the like the player development at Pitt. He’s very interested in Pitt and we are very interested in Pitt.”