Mr Putback Jam M'Baye claims MVP of the Week honor
BOLOGNA (Italy) - If you were wondering why the ground shook beneath you on Wednesday night, at about 10:30pm Central European Team, there was no tremor from an earthquake.
It was something else, and it happened in Bologna.
Near the end of Segafredo Virtus Bologna’s 98-91 triumph over Promitheus Patras, a game that went to overtime, Amath M’Baye snared a rebound with both arms extended and threw down a vicious, two-handed, rim-rattling dunk that led to a cacophony of cheers on an already boisterous night for the home fans.
The dunk was so forceful and the cheers so loud that surely there had to be a number registered on the Richter Scale. M’Baye took his points haul to 20 with the dunk, capping his terrific night which also saw him grab 10 boards, dish out 2 assists, come up with two steals and also a block a shot. The slam might have just been the dunk of the year in the Basketball Champions League.
“I don’t know if that’s the dunk of the season because I’ve seen some amazing dunks throughout the whole season,” M’Baye said. “It was simple really. I was just running down the court and was hoping for an alley-oop pass from Kevin (Punter) but he didn’t see me and let if fly. I saw the opportunity and it just happened.”
The jam brought a much needed respite after a stressful 45 minutes for Virtus fans, who had seen the visitors from Greece come from behind late to force the extra period and threaten to prevent the home side from clinching first place in Group D.
“IT WAS DEFINITELY AN IMPORTANT GAME. THE COACH STRESSED THAT WE REALLY WORKED HARD IN THE GROUP STAGE AND IT WOULD HAVE BEEN STUPID IF WE’D JUST DROPPED IT AND LOST FIRST PLACE. EVERYONE WAS REALLY FOCUSED AND TRIED HARD TO WIN THAT GAME.”
It also served to reinforce just how good a player M’Baye is, and especially how well he’s performed this season. The 29-year-old Frenchman has been a revelation, certainly for BCL fans.
There are also a lot more people back in France that know about M'Baye because his fine, consistent play saw him rewarded with a place in the national team in the European Qualifiers for the World Cup. He made his national team bow in November and is also set to play in this month's European Qualifiers.
“Getting in the French team was definitely one of the highlights of the season,” he said. “It was really exciting. It was something I had been waiting for, hoping for, for a very long time. And to be able to do it was a great reward. I felt really proud and I can’t wait to get back with my teammates in France. It’s coming up super fast.”
France will wrap up their European Qualifiers campaign for the World Cup with games at Finland on February 21 and then at home in Reze against the Czech Republic on February 24.
The dunk at the end of the game against Promitheus did something else. It added a spark to the conversation that follows each Gameday when the weekly awards are being decided. M’Baye made the Team of the Week, and, drum roll please, he has also been named the Gameday 14 MVP. He finished with 4 3-pointers on the night.
He was just glad that Virtus won.
“It was definitely an important game,” he said. “The coach (Stefano Sacripanti) stressed that we really worked hard in the group stage and it would have been stupid if we’d just dropped it and lost first place. Everyone was really focused and tried hard to win that game.”
There are so many good French basketball players that some get overlooked and M’Baye probably falls into that category. He spent five years in America, playing basketball for a year at a California prep school before enrolling and playing two seasons for the Wyoming Cowboys.
He then sat out a year after transferring to Oklahoma and played a season for the Sooners before launching his professional career in Japan.
“WE CAN’T GET REALLY AHEAD OF OURSELVES BECAUSE THAT’S WHEN YOU MESS UP. (BUT) IT WOULD BE AMAZING TO GET THIS HISTORICAL TEAM BACK ON A HIGH EUROPEAN PEDESTAL AGAIN. ”
After a few years there, he spent a year with Brindisi in Italy, then with Olimpia Milano and now, he’s with the rivals, the famous club of Virtus Bologna. His career appears to be moving in the right direction.
“I think I am,” he said. “I think I had a really good first year in Brindisi. Last year was a little more challenging but I think I definitely got to learn more about the higher level and how things go in bigger organizations. This year has been great to get a little more freedom, a little more trust from my teammates and my staff. I think it’s definitely been helping me as a player and as a person.
“Being able to find a role in this team and to be able to flourish a little bit and to be rewarded with this amazing opportunity to represent my country, it does show my career is moving in the right direction.”
M'Baye has thrived with Virtus. Something that has helped has been the spirited crowd at home games.
“The fans, it’s definitely different, amazing,” he said. “The passion is rare. You don’t see that in a lot of places. Regardless who the opponent is, or what day of the week it is, or what time the game is, they always show up.
"That helps us get going. It’s special. It’s helped us a lot. We have gone down big in games but always come back and they have a big role in that. We know that no matter what happens, they’re always there for us, supporting us. As long they see that we’re really working hard, and not giving up - we never give up - they’ll be supporting us.”
Virtus will need the fans more than ever in the Play-Offs.
The club was on Friday drawn in the Round of 16 to face Le Mans, which means Bordeaux-born M’Baye will return to his homeland. Le Mans did not book their place in the Play-Offs until the last week.
Dall’urna del sorteggio per gli ottavi di @BasketballCL, svoltosi a Ginevra oggi alle 12, è uscito il nome dell’avversario della Virtus Segafredo. Ad incrociare i bianconeri sarà il @MSB_Officiel. Le date delle gare saranno rese note lunedì 11 febbraio.#BasketballCL #OldEmpire pic.twitter.com/un5749mNc1— Virtus Segafredo (@Virtusbo) February 8, 2019
If they survive that two-legged showdown, Virtus will face either Turkish side Besiktas or another French team, Nanterre.
History shows in the Basketball Champions League there is a small margin for error in the Play-Offs.
“Most definitely,” he said. “Just because of the format and there are two games each round. You can never really go down big but have to keep it close to have a chance. It’s definitely going to be very interesting.”
Virtus own a couple of EuroLeague crowns, a Saporta Cup trophy and a EuroChallenge title. Domestically, Virtus have won the Italian league 15 times, though the last of those was in 2001.
“We have to take it one game at a time because there are so many tough opponents on the way,” M’Baye said. “We can’t get really ahead of ourselves because that’s when you mess up. (But) It would be amazing to get this historical team back on a high European pedestal again. But we’ll just go one game at a time and take it from there.”
As for his own future, M’Baye is living in the present and not looking too far ahead.
“I definitely have goals but as I’m maturing and growing up and getting older, I am realizing that those career plans don’t make much sense because things can happen just with a snap of the finger, just changes,” he said. “You can have a great season, and a great opportunity, or just have a season where you go down and the opportunities aren’t the same.
“It’s really hard in this line of work to plan ahead. I just want to keep pushing with this team, and get all of the accomplishments that we want and then at the end of the year, it will be that time to figure out what the right move is."