Ol’ Reliable: Thamba sustains dependability for No. 4 MBB

Senior Flo Thamba leads the team to a number one seed in the March Madness Tournament, stepping through the injury of Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua. Brittany Tankersley | Photo Editor

By Michael Haag | Sports Writer

Reliable and dependable are the two words used to describe No. 4 Baylor men’s basketball senior forward Flo Thamba, who started all 30 games in the 2021 national championship run for the Bears. The four-year journey has been a learning experience, with Thamba playing behind some stellar talent and waiting to anchor down the big-man position.

“I’ve learned a lot about myself,” Thamba said. “One of the biggest things I learned was just my ability to be a leader on this team. This has basically been in the works in just being here for so long and also looking at all the predecessors who were in the past, from Freddie [Gillespie] to Mark [Vital], from Davion [Mitchell] and even all the way back to my freshman year with King McClure and Jake Lindsey. I’ve been blessed to be a part of different teams and also just have an opportunity to learn a lot from them.”

Junior forward Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua suffered an ACL tear on Feb. 12, a massive loss for the Bears. This was a big hit to the size and depth of the team, leaving Thamba to take over the reins and step up into an even bigger role.

For head coach Scott Drew, the key adjustment for Thamba was to limit fouls to ensure he could stay on the court and give Baylor more options.

“I think this thing all of us shared with him is he just has to be wise about foul trouble,” Drew said. “When you have a two-headed monster and you have Jon and Flo, it allows you to be ultra aggressive. If you pick up an aggressive foul or careless foul, it’s not the end of the world. But now we need Flo to make sure when he fouls, it’s appropriately at the right time and not things that put us in jeopardy.”

The adjustment went well for the 6-foot-10- inch forward, who has shifted to a less aggressive approach in order to do what’s best for the team.

“I’ve been working with the coaching staff in just pointing out key areas to where I can stay out of foul trouble,” Thamba said. “But without, I’d still be very much impactful to the game — my physical presence, especially on the defensive side and also on the offensive side and offensive rebounding. I’ve always been aggressive but with Jon being out I have to be more cautious about getting to certain areas where I can easily pick up easy and quick fouls. But I feel like I’ve done a great job at that and also just trusting the coaching staff.”

Another area Drew thinks Thamba has become better at is finishing around the rim. Drew is not only happy for Thamba to be doing so well, but glad to see that success being fueled in some way due to Everyday Jon’s absence.

“He’s done a good job catching and finishing. He’s been working hard on that,” Drew said. “I know Flo and Jon are really good friends. I know Flo really wants to pick it up and represent Jon out there. I’m really happy for Flo because he’s worked really hard.”

Thamba likes to reward himself after cleaning up the offensive glass, something extra the coaching staff tells him to do.

“I consider myself an elite offensive rebounder, so [I] just crash the glass and ‘finish my breakfast,’ as Coach likes to say,” Thamba said.

The forward from the Republic of Congo has spent his entire collegiate career away from his family, not seeing his sister until Baylor’s recent senior night. Thamba’s parents will also see him play in the green and gold for the first time at 1 p.m. Thursday in Fort Worth at the Dickies Arena for the Bears’ first-round matchup against Norfolk State University.

“My sister, that was the first time she had seen me play [since I was a kid]. Similarly, going to be the same thing with my parents,” Thamba said. “The last time my parents actually saw me play was senior night back in high school, and ever since then, they’ve just watched highlights here and there. This is actually the first time they’ll be in attendance and watch me play an actual college game.”

While not being around his family is undesirable, Thamba isn’t emotional about it and knows how proud his mom is going to be to see her son succeed in the sport he loves.

“I’m not really the type to be emotional like that, but it’s just a good feeling,” Thamba said. “More so for my mom because she’s always supported me in a lot of ways. Just seeing her … and just seeing the fruits of the labor [of] being away from each other for so long. Seeing how special it is to us like, ‘Man, we get to celebrate this thing as a family.’”

Thamba’s career at Baylor is now one loss away from coming to a close. He said he is grateful to Baylor for his four years as a student- athlete and believes he is a better leader as a result of it.

“I’ve learned a lot from the stuff done on the court and then just being a better leader off the court,” Thamba said. “I just feel like I’ve grown a lot; four years is a long time.”