PHILADELPHIA — Jean Marc Christ Koumadje was walking to the market in Senegal to look for clothes 18 months ago when his life changed forever.
The 7-foot-4 Koumadje is originally from the African nation of Chad and was staying with a family friend in Senegal when he was spotted by Ibrahima N’Diaye, who subsequently introduced him to basketball and invited him to several camps, including the Basketball Without Borders Camp in Senegal.
“Somebody saw me with my height and told me I can come practice with them,” Koumadje told SNY.tv.
“That’s how he was discovered, walking to the store to get mom something,” Sulieman Holman, Koumadje’s mentor in Florida who has also hosted Montverde (FL) Academy players Ben Simmons and D’Angelo Russell at his home, told SNY.tv by phone.
N’Diaye and others soon arranged for him to come to the U.S., where he enrolled at Montverde. He wil spend next year at the the Village Christian School in Sun Valley, Calif., Holman said.
Koumadje, who just turned 18 Monday and goes by “Christ,” his middle name, has only been playing basketball for 18 months and has only been in the U.S. since September.
He shows nice athleticism and shot-blocking ability but must develop his offensive game. Still, he had an impressive follow dunk Friday against 6-11 Skal Labissiere, who is one of the best big men here and is being recruited heavily by Kentucky and Memphis.
“It’s tough because he’s such a good shot-blocker and you have to alter your shot,” Labissiere told SNY.tv. “He’s got great timing, he runs the floor real well for his size. He just can move for his size. He’s 7-4. [Once he develops] an offensive game, he’ll be fine. Once he gets stronger and puts on weight, he’ll be something to deal with.”
Koumadje said he has to work on keeping the rebounds he grabs above his head so opponents don’t steal them.
“Holding it up and just going strong and finish,” he told SNY.tv. “Offensively, I know I got a lot of work to do. Even defensively, keeping my feet because people blow by me so quick.”
Koumadje is already getting schooled by pros, too.
He worked out in California with former UConn star Andre Drummond and met Joel Embiid, a fellow African and the No. 3 pick in the NBA Draft out of Kansas.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Koumadje is already piling up college scholarship offers like firewood.
Since coming to the Reebok Breakout Classic here this week, Koumadje has added offers from UConn, Louisville, Tennessee, Florida State, Wichita State, Auburn and USC to the ones he had from UCLA, Washington, UMass and Pepperdine.
Holman said the head coach of every major school in the country has contacted him except for Duke, Syracuse and Kentucky, while Diana Neal of the Showtime Ballers AAU team said Kentucky reached out to her about the big man.
“The only people that haven’t called me in two days is Duke, Syracuse and Kentucky, as far as the big powerhouses,” Holman said. “But everybody else has. I’ve kind of lost count of everybody that’s called.”
Holman said all the schools “were trying to get him to commit while he’s out there [in Philadelphia] but obviously he’s not going to do that.”
Right now, Holman said the big man will visit UConn and Florida State sometime during the first or second weeks in August after he returns from the Fab 48 in Las Vegas, and that many other schools want him to visit, too.
“We’re going visit FSU, he’s going to visit UConn,” Holman said. “He’s already visited unofficially UCLA.”
Holman added: “They spoke very highly of him and they’re on him pretty hard. I was receiving calls up to 11:30 [Thursday] night and had to cut the phone off.”