On Friday, Bol Bol – son of the late Manute – led No. 13 Oregon into the 2K Empire Classic consolation game against No. 15 Syracuse, but there was no question who was the main focus, the 7’2” Ducks center.
It was an eclectic group that gathered at Madison Square Garden to watch the Sudanese prodigy play on his 19th birthday. There were little kids who called out his name, trying to gain his attention as he worked on his outside shot.
Then, there was Michael Thornberg, a classmate of Bol’s father, the late Manute, at the University of Bridgeport. He has had tickets to the 2K Classic for 11 straight seasons, but this time there was additional excitement for the 2018 edition, as he looked forward to meeting his classmate’s son, grey sharpie in-hand.
While covering the @2KClassic I met the only man in the building with a Manute Bol jersey. The two were classmates at the University of Bridgeport.— Bryan Fonseca (@BryanFonsecaNY) November 17, 2018
Manute's son, Bol Bol, is one of college basketball's top freshmen this season, and had 26 pts, 9 rebs & 4 blks yesterday. pic.twitter.com/9xkQYEOeKh
“I only remember him as a very small child. He came to visit before,” Thornberg recalled of the young Bol.
“(His father) was a very, very wonderful person,” he said of Manute, with whom he also played volleyball and hung out with on occasion. He was not disappointed with young Bol either.
There were no doubt scouts from the Nets on hand as well. They just didn’t announce themselves. Bol has been linked to Brooklyn in at least two mock drafts of late, NBADraft.net and Tankathon.
Bol is growing very familiar with New York. Friday’s game was the teenager’s fifth in the city dating back to March of 2018, when a Bol-led Findlay Prep played in the GEICO National’s at Christ the King High School in Queens. The team reached the semifinals, losing to R.J. Barrett’s Montverde Academy squad. (Barrett, now of Duke University, is the expected first or second pick in next year’s draft.)
Less than two weeks later, Bol was part of the Jordan Brand Classic experience in Brooklyn, which hosts many of the top high school talent from around the country.
Bol had 24 points and nine rebounds in the All-Star game, which was held on the Barclays Center floor ... after practices at the HSS Training Center. One of the practices was open to media, scouts and other NBA personnel, including Matt Riccardi, assistant General Manager of the Long Island Nets.
That pullup Bol Bol just converted is a shot he’s worked on and wants part of the arsenal pic.twitter.com/wSrjjdji5I— Jonathan Wasserman (@NBADraftWass) November 16, 2018
“This is my second time being in an (NBA) practice facility,” Bol told NetsDaily back in April. “But this one is pretty cool because it’s on top of a building, it’s a pretty long court.”
At least one of three players the Nets will draft, all of whom could be in the top 35 may already be familiar with the city of Brooklyn or New York as a whole.
At the 2K Classic, Bol began with a less-than-spectacular 14 points, five rebounds and four blocks against Iowa on Thursday. The freshman phenom bounced back against Syracuse, finishing with 26 points, nine rebounds and four blocks and their trademark (but cowardly … according to Bomani Jones) zone defense.
“He’s a good player. He’s very good,” said famed Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim, obviously impressed, yet visibly annoyed, after losing to Bol and the Ducks, 80-65, in the consolation game.
“He’s a big problem out there. We’re not physical, you’ve got to be more physical out there. He’s god a great touch, I think that’s the biggest thing. He really does. We’ve got to be more physical with guys. He’s got a great touch; he’s got a good feel for the game. He’s a great passer and scorer. He can shoot from the perimeter; he can shoot from the high post.”
So far, through four college games, Bol is averaging 18.8 points, 10.5 rebounds and 4.0 blocks while shooting nearly 52% from the floor, 33% from three and 75% from the foul line for the nationally ranked Ducks. He’s also been lauded for his passing ability despite dishing out only four total assists in four games.
“It’s been pretty hard because college games are a lot more physical and it’s a lot faster,” said the soft-spoken Bol said Friday of his adjustment to the next level.
Oregon head coach Dana Altman had much more to offer on his likely, “one-and-done,” who will be one of the most sought-after prospects in an otherwise weak — and top-heavy — draft class.
“He’s a unique talent. He’s gonna grow into a special player because you saw him shoot the three, you saw him handle it, he makes nice passes,” Altman said. “We do have to get him stronger. He’s got to play the game as more of an athlete, rather than straight up and down … When you’re straight up and down everything seems to be moving a lot faster and seems a lot more physical than it is. He’s got to be lower and a better athlete.
“He’s a really good athlete, but when he’s straight up and down, everybody pushes him around.”
Altman, like Boeheim, marveled at the 19-year-old’s touch on his shot, despite being 7’2”, He will surely draw comparisons to Kristaps Porzingis, in terms of playing style, between now and June.
As a result, that leaves much room for physical growth, which will be the challenge for Bol moving forward.
“You can’t just stick him inside because with his physical stature, he’d get beat up,” Altman admits. “You’ve kind of got to move him around and flash him into the post and let him use some of that skill level. I encourage him to shoot the three as long as he’s working hard in practice on it.
“He’s got a good touch and really, that creates so many problems when a five-man, a big guy like that could step out and hit a three and we can go five-wide,” which Kenny Atkinson would no doubt find appealing
And yes, he can play with Jarrett Allen if the Nets go that route, because of his (and Allen’s developing) ability to spread the floor on offense, while acting as trees on defense. Though, they’re more likely to sub for one another if teammates.
Besides, the Nets philosophy has always been best player available.
But again, we’re a long way from June.