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OXFORD, Miss. — Defense has been the theme for Ole Miss during the offseason. Every player head coach Kermit Davis has brought in through the transfer portal thus far has earned defensive accolades at his former school — and Josh Mballa, the latest addtition to pledge to the Rebels during this transfer cycle, is no different.
Mballa announced on Sunday he will join Myles Burns, Jayveous McKinnis, and Theo Akwuba as members of Ole Miss’ 2022-2023 portal class.
Mballa is a 6-foot-7, 220-pound forward who spent the last three years at Buffalo where he was All-MAC second team the last two seasons.
In 2021-2022, he averaged 13.0 PPG, 8.6 RPG, and 1.2 STL while starting 25 of 28 games. This past season he put together several solid performances including a 13-point, 8-rebound performance against Michigan, and a 26-point 17-rebound game against Miami (OH) in MAC play.
The best season of his career came in 2020-2021 when Mballa earned MAC Defensive Player of the Year and averaged 15.3 PPG, 10.8 RPG, and 1.5 STL. After that season, he even tested the NBA waters before returning to Buffalo.
Prior to transferring to Buffalo, Mballa played one season at Texas Tech. He is a native of France, where gained experience playing on the U17 and U18 teams, and he also played his prep career at Putnam Science Academy in Connecticut.
Mballa is the highest-ranked Ole Miss player in the EvanMiya.com transfer portal rankings, coming in at 57th.
After Mballa announced his intention on April 26th to enter the transfer portal, Coach Davis was quick to get to work. Just a little over a week later, Mballa visited Ole Miss on the weekend of May 7th-9th. After that, he took visits to both Maryland and then Florida before ultimately choosing Ole Miss.
— J-smoooth (@JoshuaMballa) May 15, 2022
Like the other players in this class, Mballa has an identity within defense and rebounding. On the defensive end, he was a versatile piece for Buffalo over the last three years.
He grew up playing as a guard in France and eventually grew into becoming a forward. With that he has a little twitchiness to him that can allow him to step out and guard on the perimeter some. In pick-n-roll coverage he would sometimes hedge, and in these situations it was noticeable how well he could recover back to his man.
Other times he would flat out switch. In MAC play he even had some time guarding high end playmakers in that conference out on the perimeter (Jason Preston and Ryan Rollins come to mind), forcing them into some difficult looks.
At 220 pounds, he can be an undersized five, but he fits the profile of a power forward completely. He can guard in the paint some, but he isn’t quite the rim protector that Ole Miss may ask Akwuba or McKinnis to be. On defense he is very instinctive and finds ways to keep his hands active.
The best trait of Mballa is his tenacity attacking the glass. Rebounding is an elite trait of his. This is a player who had three seasons in the MAC ranked in the top-five for total rebounding percentage. He is really good at finding ways to establish deep position for offensive rebounds and extending high up to get second chance opportunities.
Mballa twice finished in the top-20 in the NCAA in offensive rebound percentage. In the MAC tournament in 2020-2021, Mballa averaged 16.5 rebounds over a three-game stretch. His motor can’t go unnoticed. Kind of like Robert Allen, he is going to bring energy to the court.
Speaking of the offensive end, Mballa has a guard skill about him. He mostly was used in a post-up or as a screener at Buffalo. He still could use some refinement in the post, which is okay, but he has the ability to take hooks and offers some counter moves.
Mballa has the size and footwork to beat guys at his position down in the post and should get looks down there. He does a really good job of establishing position and seals on ball reversals. A lot of his work was done around the rim (offensive rebounds, put backs, tip-ins, dump-offs).
Did I mention he was a guard growing up? That’s brilliant foreshadowing as we talk about his ability to attack the defenses. Like Ruffin and Abram, Mballa can be a threat when going downhill. There were moments where he could start his own break or run a lane out in transition, and he also can get downhill in the half court as well. He has the ability to be a good slashing forward for this team.
⚜️ Available Transfer ⚜️
**1 Year of Eligibility Remaining**
— Transfer Tapes (@TransferTapes) April 28, 2022
For the Kermit Davis fans out there I am going to throw a name out. This isn’t a comparison, so don’t think of it that way. But how Buffalo allowed Mballa to attack by spacing out and giving up some space on the perimeter and the way he would use some dribbles to get defenders on their heels and use a spin, or a step through for a reverse , there are shades of the way Coach Davis would do the same for Jacorey Williams.
This is not saying Mballa and Williams are the same player or will have the same output. Williams was more fluid, quicker and could pull-up on his attack, while Mballa is more physical and will bump in to contact trying to get deeper inside.
However, watching film on Mballa I did ask myself whether Kermit may run some sets for him in the same style as he did Jacorey to get the ball in the deep mid-range or perimeter and space out and see if he can get by a bigger defender.
Overall, whether it be off the bench or in the starting lineup, Mballa adds a new element to the forward position for Kermit Davis’s team.
🇫🇷 Josh Mballa had no mercy for Miami-OH on the glass, scoring half of his FGs off offensive rebounds. Big double double to help Buffalo get the 7th straight win, 86-84. The senior looks better and better lately. @JoshuaMballa
23 PTS • 10-17 FG • 2-4 FT • 17 REB • 4 AST pic.twitter.com/YjWmgVHcVp
— CBB Europe (@CBB_Europe) February 23, 2022
The final observation for me here is that Ole Miss now has proper depth in the front court, and with this depth they can play a lot of different possibilities.
This team has the size to go big with players like Akwuba and McKinnis. They have skilled players like *Ewin/Brakefield, and Mballa/Allen who are energy guys who can do different things. Not only are you putting a group of guys out there who have defensive pedigrees, but you can put out some lineups early on in the year to try and see what may work.
Complete hypothetical, but now Ole Miss could put out a group that loves to get out and run and it may be a smaller lineup. This could be a group of Ruffin – one of Abram, Caldwell, Burns, or Cowherd – Murrell – Mballa – one of Ewin or Brakefield as a small ball five. That lineup can space out allowing players like Ruffin, Abram, Murrell, Mballa, and Brakefield to find lanes to attack while having players on the perimeter who can slash in or attack on kick outs. The opposite is that they could go big with another lineup and really try to physically handle the game.
Ole Miss now has players to shuffle around and find out what works. However, the downside is that with the addition of Mballa, Ole Miss is now one over the scholarship limit right now and that means some sort of roster realignment has to occur. This could be the last of this for Ole Miss or there could be more. That’s the impact of the transfer portal. Coaches never really stop recruiting.
(Feature image graphic: Lee Ann Herring, The Rebel Walk)
TJ Oxley is a current MBA student at Ole Miss after having earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Toledo. He currently covers college hoops and the NBA Draft for the Basketball Society as well as all things Ole Miss for The Rebel Walk.