NEW WESTMINSTER — The PacWest Conference welcomed its next big star to the court for the first time this past weekend.
And when you ask his head coach for some initial impressions, Joe Enevoldson didn’t pull any punches.
“Simply put, he’s (an NCAA) Div. 1 post player,” Enevoldson said of Bollo Gnahore, a 6-foot-10, 260-pound front court force, whose basketball journey has taken him from his native Ivory Coast, to Paris, to a North Carolina prep school and finally to Div. 1 New Mexico State where a recommendation from a teammate with deep local roots got him on the path to enrolling in New Westminster with the CCAA’s defending national finalist Royals.
“Jermaine is a friend of mine,” said Gnahore of Jermaine Haley, the former Burnaby South superstar who was teammates with Gnahore in 2016-17 before transferring to his current station in the Big 12 with the West Virginia Mountaineers.
“He told me all about B.C., told me Vancouver was a nice area, and I just wanted to come and try something new.”
The big man will get his first taste of home court in the Royal City this weekend as Douglas College (5-3) plays host Friday (8 p.m.) and Saturday (7 p.m.) to its cross-region rivals from Vancouver, the Langara College Falcons (4-4).
Born in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Gnahore’s family moved to Paris when he was nine, and he grew up in the French capital until making the move to New Hope Christian Academy, his North Carolina-based prep school. There, he was deemed a three-star recruit by Rivals and eventually made his way to New Mexico State, the same school that B.C. high school stars Ron Putzi and Brian Tait chose straight out of Richmond Secondary in the late 1980s.
Last Friday, for the first time since 2014-15 when he played his final season of prep school basketball, Gnahore stepped onto the hardwood and played in an actual game.
It was a 101-91 loss to the host Capilano Blues, but Gnahore, over a regulated 15 minutes of court time, went 6-of-9 from the field and finished with 12 points and nine rebounds.
The next night, in a 101-86 Douglas College win, his minutes were upped to 17, and he went 4-of-8 from the field and six-of-seven from the stripe for 14 points, eight rebounds and five blocks.
Pro-rating those numbers over 40 minutes would put his stats through the ceiling, but the patient Enevoldson is more concerned with easing him into full-time duty.
“We decided at the beginning of the process to have a minutes restriction on him, to bring him along slowly so that he would be effective on both nights,” said the coach. “He had only had three practices with us before the weekend.”
Yet what the Royals and Blues saw, and what the rest of the conference will see over the second half of the season, is a big man able to collect his numbers with breathtaking efficiency.
“It was pretty good to get a feel for the game again,” said Gnahore, who spent the 2015-16 season in Las Cruces as a redshirt with plans to play for New Mexico State the next season.
He suffered a torn ACL, however, just before the start of the 2016-17 season and has spent the past couple of seasons rehabbing and finding a new landing spot.
“It had been such a long time, so think I did good for my first games,” he added.
His two-game combined line over 22 total minutes?
Try 10-of-17 shooting, six-of-nine free throw shooting, 26 points, 17 rebounds and six blocks.
“It’s all in the way he alters a game, not even necessarily with his stats,” Enevoldson says. “He alters things just by his presence, and it changes the dynamic of a game.”
On Saturday against the Blues, Enevoldson says he could see it in the ways in which Capilano began to re-think its attack towards the Douglas rim.
What did Enevoldson find most surprising about Gnahore?
“What I loved most was his ability to pass out of post and the fact that he was constantly looking for his teammates,” the coach said. “That gives him an even bigger presence. He can back a guy down and go by most guys in this league, but fitness wise, he is going to see a lot of double- and triple-teams. So that ability to pass was something to see. In relative terms, what he was doing was similar to Shaquille O’Neal in that way. He’s the Shaq of the (PacWest).”
Ask Gnafore about his positive start, and he’s more concerned with his longevity. Yes, he’d love a pro career when all is said and done, but he’s also a guy coming off an ACL and is two games into his college career after what basically amounts to three lost seasons.
“I definitely want to try to play professionally, but right now, the key is just to stay healthy and see what I can do,” said Gnahore who is listed as a first-year player on the Douglas College roster.
The Royals are already ably manned in the low block with 6-foot-6 Shane Toporowski, a second-year man out of Kamloops’ Sa-Hali Secondary. There is also 6-foot-5 Ben Rabel, out of Prince Rupert’s Charles Hays Secondary and 7-foot SFU transfer E.J. Christie.
“We are focused on the fact that he is essentially two years removed from being a university athlete, so we are trying to bring him in slowly,” Enevoldson added. “We can all see that he can be a dominant post player once he gets fit, so we’re looking forward to him getting a little bit better every week, just like our team motto.
“I think we’re going to be going on all cylinders by March and Bollo is going to be a big part of it, both literally and figuratively.”
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