Mount St. Mary’s basketball coach Jamion Christian was thrilled to hear Mawdo Sallah committed to Kansas State on Monday.
After coaching Sallah for three years, it was difficult for Christian to say goodbye to the 6-foot-9 junior forward that helped the Mountaineers become an NCAA Tournament team when Sallah requested to transfer two months ago. But Christian says Sallah is capable of more, and he thinks he will do big things with the Wildcats.
“They are getting a guy who can come in right away and make an impact and help,” Christian said in a phone inteview. “Inside the locker room, he can be outstanding. He is the guy who galvanized our locker room. He was great from the minute he arrived. This is a guy with winning experience. That is really important to understand. A lot of these guys who are transferring around, they didn’t have success. Mawdo has been to the NCAA Tournament and won a game there. He has played in a lot of high-pressure situations.”
Sallah, a rare graduate transfer with two years of eligibility remaining at his new school, committed to the Wildcats four days after they dismissed sophomore forward Isaiah Maurice. Sallah is on pace to graduate in August with degrees in accounting and business/information systems, making him immediately eligible.
A native of Latri Kunda, Gambia, he started 35 games last season and helped Mount St. Mary’s reach the NCAA Tournament by averaging 6.1 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.1 blocks. The Mountaineers defeated New Orleans in the First Four, hours before K-State outdueled Wake Forest, and then lost to Villanova in the opening round. Sallah could have stayed and built on that success, but he left with bigger goals in mind.
“I just wanted to challenge myself,” Sallah said by phone. “The Northeast Conference is tough, but I want to play at the highest level I can. Me going to the Big 12 will allow me to not only play against better competition in games but in practice every single day. I have only been playing basketball since the age of 16 and I think I can get a lot better. Playing at Kansas State will really help me improve.”
Sallah took an odd path to K-State that would not have been possible without sitting out the 2015-16 season with a redshirt due to an injury, making him more appealing than most transfers.
When Sallah announced plans to transfer in April, he favored K-State over his other options. But the Wildcats picked up commitments from a pair of junior-college transfers — Amaad Wainright and Makol Mawien — and didn’t have room on their roster.
“Mawdo was devastated,” Christian said. “He fell in love with Kansas State and really wanted to play for Coach Weber once they started talking. He just couldn’t make it out there for a visit in time.”
Sallah appeared to move on when he signed a financial aid agreement with UNC-Wilmington. The Seahawks announced his addition to the team in early May with a news release that quoted coach C.B. McGrath.
“Mawdo is going to be a great addition because he has college experience and great character,” McGrath said. “He has an intense desire to work hard and be part of the team. The coaches at Mount St. Mary’s were very complimentary about him. Mawdo wants to expand his game and we’re looking forward to working with him. He’s college basketball ready and he’s a nice piece to add to our roster moving forward.”
A UNC-Wilmington team spokesman said Sallah’s financial aid agreement with the school is not binding like a letter of intent. Because Sallah never started classes at UNC-Wilmington, he is free to transfer elsewhere.
Sallah thanked UNC-Wilmington for the opportunity but had a change of heart the moment K-State coaches called to offer him a scholarship last week. He scheduled a weekend visit to Manhattan and committed Monday.
“Everything worked out in the end, and I am really happy about that,” Sallah said. “I love Kansas State’s whole family atmosphere. I felt so comfortable with everybody there just after talking to them a few times.”
Sallah will likely be asked to contribute right away for the Wildcats, as they have few experienced players returning inside. At the least, Sallah will help replace the production of Maurice, who averaged three points and two rebounds in 30 games last season as a redshirt freshman.
He thinks his athleticism will help K-State on offense and his size will help on defense.
“I am not sure how the season is going to go, but I am going to do anything my team needs me to do,” Sallah said. “That is how I have always played. My job may be different every game. I don’t care. I will block shots, score, play defense, run, whatever the team needs.”
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett