by Jim Buzzerd
This is sort of old news, but the basketball career of Sagaba Konate at West Virginia University officially came to an end on June 21 when the Mali native signed a free agent contract with the Toronto Raptors.The signing came on the morning after the NBA draft after the shot blocking phenom went undrafted. A new rule instituted by the NCAA this season provided for undrafted players to return to school, provided they followed certain steps when they entered the draft. It’s unclear if Konate took those steps, but the point is moot now.
Konate leaves WVU as the career leader in blocked shots with 191. A feat he accomplished in a season and a quarter and it’s the eight games Konate played last season that will likely define his career at West Virginia.
To recap, Konate burst on the scene as a sophomore in the 2017-18 season as one of college basketball’s elite shot blockers. This followed a freshman season where the center started only one game and averaged four points in just over 10 minutes per game. One season into his career he was viewed as a bit of a project, but with plenty of upside especially considering he was still relatively new to organized basketball.
As mentioned, Konate really blossomed as a sophomore starting 36 games and averaging 25 minutes a game. While still a work in progress on the offensive end of the floor, his progress across the board was obvious and he emerged as a legitimate rim protector with 116 blocked shots. His season was good enough to convince him to test the NBA waters when he was invited to compete in the NBA combine.
What we learned was that Konate was actually just over 6-6 after being listed at 6-8 on most rosters. That put him behind the eight ball, because not many players can excel in the NBA at center standing just 6-6, even with Konate’s shot blocking acumen. Konate was advised to return to the collegiate ranks and work on skills that would allow him to play facing the basket at the next level.
That’s how last season began for Konate. In two seasons Konate had never taken a three point shot. In nine games last season he was 9 of 23 from behind the arc for a respectable 39%. His ball handling skills lagged behind his improved shooting, so projecting him as a NBA forward seemed a stretch.
Then the world of Sagaba Konate got strange. There was a story that Konate had a knee injury and his brother was advising him not to play. He sat out a game and came off the bench for another. In his final game as a Mountaineer on December 8, 2018 he had an amazing outing against Pitt with 16 points eight rebounds and seven blocked shots and no sign of a bum knee. Yet we would never see him on the court again. Ironically, it was in that Pitt game that Konate set the new career blocked shot record.
Whether accurate on not, speculation was rampant that Konate’s brother had advised his younger sibling to shut it down and enter the draft. To his credit Sagaba stayed with the team until the end of the season and looked the part as a cheering teammate. Ultimately the decision to sit out probably cost him a spot in this year’s combine and that hurt any real chance he had to be drafted. I wouldn’t bet against Konate finding a roster spot in the NBA, but a meaningful role in the league might be a stretch.
Konate will begin play this Saturday with the Raptors’ summer league in Las Vegas. Games can be seen on NBA TV or on the ESPN family of channels.