Why a healthy Josh Mballa means new possibilities for Ole Miss basketball
The 6-foot-7 Buffalo transfer is getting healthy – and, Rebels coach Kermit Davis noted – shedding some of the weight he added while off the court. On Friday night, he provided a sampling of what he can do when he's at full strength.
Mballa scored 10 points and went 3-for-3 from the field in just 12 minutes of action during Ole Miss' 80-67 win over Florida Atlantic at the SJB Pavilion, pulling down three rebounds, too.
"He's such a big physical guy and (shedding weight) helped him," Davis said. "Guys will gain a little weight during injury. He can't be as active. He's lost about 6, 6.5 pounds. It's made him more athletic, and then he's gotten healthy."
Mballa, listed at 220 pounds, provides a physical presence at forward that enables Davis to go small when the situation calls for it.
When paired with the likes of Robert Allen and Jaemyn Brakefield, Mballa allows the Rebels to play without a traditional center, which they did at times Friday. Starting center Theo Akwuba played just over 12 minutes, and Malique Ewin – the only other player listed at 6-10 or above on Ole Miss' roster – saw less than two minutes of action.
"What we can do is kind of play forward basketball if we need to," Davis said. "Have him and Robert, him and Jaemyn and have one of them play the five. They're physical enough to guard the other team's five, and now there's maybe a mismatch that we can get against the other team's five (offensively)."
Mballa also can provide a versatile defensive presence, playing at the top of the Rebels' 1-3-1 press at times Friday and defending the post plenty, too.
That's what Davis and the Ole Miss coaching staff signed up for when they brought Mballa in. The native of Bordeaux, France, was the MAC Defensive Player of the Year in 2020-21. He averaged a double-double for Buffalo that season, before his production dipped slightly as a fourth-year player.
"Just toughness, bringing that toughness on both ends," Mballa said when asked what he'll provide for the Rebels this season. "Rebounding, and little things to help the team win."
He hasn't played big minutes yet, and he hasn't needed to. But after a quiet opener (three points in 12 minutes), Mballa appears to be on an upward trajectory ahead of the Rebels' next game Tuesday vs. Chattanooga (6:30 p.m., SEC Network+).
"I've been battling injuries up until like two weeks ago, when I came back for practice," he said. "It's been good. I've been getting stronger with Coach Riley (Allen), recouping my body and getting right for the season. Just trying to stay healthy."
David Eckert covers Ole Miss for the Clarion Ledger. Email him at email@example.com or reach him on Twitter @davideckert98.