T.J. Bamba hadn’t even been in the transfer portal for a few hours, when Villanova coach Kyle Neptune called and made his pitch to the Washington State standout.
The 6-foot-5, 215-pound guard, who is on track to graduate from Washington State in just three years, aspires to play in the NBA one day.
While one-and-dones may be all the rage come draft season, he’s most intrigued with the Villanova way.
“(Neptune) was one of the first people to call me, and just the history, dominance and development, how they get guys to the NBA and how they get guys to become successful and develop over time,” Bamba said of what impressed him most about Villanova. “You don’t often hear about Villanova just having one-and-dones, but you hear about players coming into that program not projected to be a pro, then they go into Villanova, develop and they become a pro — a good pro — and stick in the NBA.
“That was definitely something that intrigued me. Me, wanting to be somebody to goes to the NBA and makes an impact, that’s my ultimate goal and my love for the game. Villanova will help me grow in that aspect and become a better player, a better person, a better teammate and all that.”
For someone who played junior varsity basketball as a sophomore in high school — an uncommon trait among top-tier prospects — Bamba has taken tremendous strides with each passing year.
At Washington State, his numbers drastically improved with each season, culminating in a breakout and career-year as a junior.
“Washington State taught me how to become my own person and navigate through ups and downs throughout life,” Bamba said. “ ... I just stuck with it through the ups and downs, then boom — got to this point where I had a good breakout season and I feel like I’m capable of even more and my work will show that eventually, but they taught me how to keep your head down and grind.”
Despite sustaining and playing through a hand injury, he managed to average a career-high 15.8 points per game on 42.6% shooting overall and a 37.2% mark from long range. He also averaged 3.7 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game.
“I came a long way and the work is showing,” Bamba said. “It’s cool to see some type of reward to an extent, so for me to even be recruited at this level, I’m super grateful. It’s a humbling experience. Now that I’ve committed to Villanova, I’m looking forward to getting ready to go to work.
“It was a tough decision to leave Washington State, and I got love for the coaching staff here, love for the players, the family and faculty, everybody — it was just time for me to go somewhere I could put myself in the best position to be in the NBA and play closer to home, and Villanova is that.”
The Harlem, N.Y. native was down to Villanova and Georgia Tech, both east coast schools. He officially announced on Friday morning that he would become a Wildcat.
It didn’t take long for Bamba to pick up the family atmosphere of the program on his official visit, from the team to the coaches, and even the administration behind the scenes.
“I met a lot of people and I felt like the vibe was just a family vibe from the get-go, and that’s important to me,” Bamba said. “I’m going to be spending a year somewhere, where I’m going to be grinding, focused on helping accomplish a goal — winning, getting to the NCAA Tournament, and hopefully making a deep run. Also, trying to boost my personal stock, so I want to be around great people to do that with.”
While he just completed his junior season, Bamba technically has two years of eligibility left, with a bonus year stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.
He also credits another former transfer, Caleb Daniels, in helping portray the Villanova way. While Bamba didn’t go into the finer details of their personal exchange, the two got to meet on his official visit. Daniels, although his collegiate career has come to an end, was working out at the time.
“Me and him had a great conversation,” Bamba said. “He told me a lot about campus, about the way of Villanova. ... Once I heard that, I was sold man. I knew exactly where I wanted to be.”
Bamba can’t wait to settle in on the Main Line.
“I’m going to be surrounded by great people, great coaching staff, great guys and great teammates,” he said. “I just want to be able to help impact everybody’s lives in a great way. I just want to touch them in a way that I can bring them light, and help them on and off the court.”
So what can fans, who haven’t seen him play yet, expect from him?
“I just describe myself as a dog, mentally tough and physically tough,” Bamba said. “I’m gonna give it my all, man. I’m a guy who plays through injuries. I might always play good, but you’d never be able to question my effort and my energy on the court. I’m just gonna put my best foot forward into helping win games and getting us back to that dominance.”