'Nobody saw it coming': Prized 7-footer spurns high-major hoops powers, commits to Oakland

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Moments after 7-footer Mustapha "Momo" Cisse committed to Oakland men's basketball late Monday night, Nick Weaver's cell phone started blowing up.

Reaching out were a whole host of high-major head coaches.

"And saying, 'What the hell?'" Weaver said, laughing. "Nobody saw it coming."

Mustapha "Momo" Cisse has committed to Oakland.

Weaver is the recruiting coordinator at Hillcrest Prep in Phoenix, Arizona, where Cisse has dominated and received significant high-major interest, including offers from the likes of Arizona State, Georgia, Mississippi State, Texas Tech and Cal. But he chose Oakland over all of them, believing no matter where you play, if you excel, you'll be noticed and get to the NBA.

Cisse, a native of Senegal who played in France before arriving at Hillcrest in January, comes to Oakland from the same prep school as Micah Parrish, who excelled at Oakland this past season as a freshman.

Cisse is the second member of Oakland's 2022 recruiting class, joining Detroit Catholic Central forward Cooper Craggs.

"It's a little bit of everything," Weaver said of Cisse's decision. "With the transfer portal the way it is nowadays, and COVID, with seniors coming back, I just wanted and he wanted to get in a good spot where he could play earlier than later.

"And with Oakland playing a lot of high-majors, we didn't really look at Oakland as a mid-major. We looked at them as a high-major because of the preseason schedule.

"It was just a perfect fit."

Oakland coach Greg Kampe has had a few 7-footers over his many years, but none showed up with this kind of resume or talent — and Oakland has struggled to get impact bigs in recent years. Daniel Oladapo, at 6-7, was Oakland's impact big this past season, but has transferred to Pittsburgh. Loudon Love, at 6-8, was a two-time Horizon League player of the year for Wright State. You certainly can survive in the Horizon League without an impact big, but you can really thrive with one.

Kampe can't comment on Cisse, per NCAA rules, because he hasn't signed his official letter of intent.

Cisse didn't visit Oakland, but he had several phone and Zoom calls with Kampe, and was comfortable with the coach. Kampe has sent several players to the NBA, most recently Kendrick Nunn, who has averaged 15 points in two seasons with the Miami Heat. That's the same Miami Heat team that just signed Duncan Robinson to a $90-million contract; Robinson began his collegiate career in Division III, before moving on to Michigan.

That just goes to show there are many routes you can take to a big-time pro career, and that's the mentality Cisse has as he prepares for a move to Rochester next year.

"That's the biggest thing going on in college basketball; players have started to realize you don't have to be at a high-major," said Weaver, who goes back years with Kampe, and whose brother, Collin, played at Oakland. "You can be seen anywhere.

"If he averages 15, 20 points, 15 rebounds, and leads the nation in blocked shots, he's gonna be up in the league.

"He's betting on himself."

Slam dunks

► New Eastern Michigan men's coach Stan Heath's first recruiting class is filling up with more transfers, including center Yusuf Jihad (Farmington Hills/Oakland). The 6-foot-8 Jihad played two seasons for the Golden Grizzlies, including 17 games off the bench last season, when he averaged 1.5 points. Eastern Michigan also signed point guard Noah Farrakhan from East Carolina.

► Tough scheduling is expecting to be a hallmark for new Central Michigan men's coach Tony Barbee, and things are off to a good start. The Chippewas will play in the Empire Classic in Las Vegas this season, opening against mighty Gonzaga.

► New Detroit Mercy women's coach LaTanya Collins has seven players on a roster that has turned over completely after the saga involving former coach AnnMarie Gilbert. The latest: three JUCO players in Starasia Bell-Freeman, Imani McNeal and A'Moni Waiters.

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Twitter: @tonypaul1984