By Gio Gennero | Sports Writer
On Monday, senior forward Flo Thamba announced he is returning for his final season as a Baylor Bear. The national champion sat down with me to reflect on this past season, as well as give more insight on his decision to return for a fifth season.
The team starts off 15-0, you’re at the top of the mountain. What’s going through your head at that point?
“I’m thinking it’s a repeat. Everything is flowing; obviously we had some issues here and there, but everything was just clicking. We have everybody healthy, everyone is hooping, I felt like nobody could stop us. Especially after the Villanova game where we just smacked them, I was like, ‘Man, nothing can stop us now.’”
After the hot start, there was a rough patch of injuries and losses, what was that stretch like for you?
“When we had lost to [Texas] Tech at home, that was a blow as far as us being undefeated and being at home. We kind of took it with a grain of salt. We knew we were going to lose eventually, no matter how much we were winning, there are going to be one or two games you’re going to lose. That still hurt on its own, but when we lost the second game to Oklahoma State that was when we were like, ‘Okay, what’s going on? We got to get our stuff together.’ After that, injuries started piling in and that was definitely tough. But the thing that sticks with us the most was the togetherness we had. We were able to face adversity and we still stuck together.”
When [Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua] went down, how did that impact your mentality and the way you approached every game?
“For me, my mentality never really changed. I always play aggressive and go out there and play to the best of my ability. Obviously we had the tandem of me and Jon like a double punch, and obviously he’s my brother. We both know how much work we’ve put in to be in the position that we’re in, so when he went down it wasn’t me picking up this load, it was more like, ‘Damn, my brother went down.’ He’s somebody who worked his butt off to be in the position he’s in and now he’s hurt, so it wasn’t about my role because regardless I’m still going to go out there and hoop. It was more seeing him go down, that’s what ripped me apart.”
Y’all ended the season rolling, how did you guys keep going and rally to win another Big 12 regular season championship?
“Definitely the team’s chemistry, the fact that we have a bunch of guys that love each other. The camaraderie was really high. Naturally, when you get on the court that translates over. A lot of teams, they play basketball and then go home and do their own things. That’s what separates having a good season and having a great season. You look at any championship team, there must be guys who really love each other.”
What was the feeling in the locker room after dropping a crazy one to the University of North Carolina?
“It hurt, but when we got back in that locker room, as much as we were down it was more like, ‘We came back from being down 25, that’s never been done before.’ For me, that untapped new potential that we didn’t even know we had. To make a 28-to-something run against a team that made it to the national championship, it tells you a lot. We had the potential to be in the same conversation, even when you cut down a quarter of our roster with everyone being hurt.”
Fully healthy, what would this team have been?
“There’s no chance. We definitely repeat. We have players on the bench that are starters on any other team. We have guys that bought into the whole program, we just would have been different. When I’m playing, usually when the starting big gets tired and the second big comes in, I know I can get a little active. But for us, I’m starting and then you’re thinking, ‘Okay the bench guy is coming in,’ but the bench guy is Jon and he’s coming to dunk on you. We also had LJ [Cryer] on the bench, and he was leading our team in scoring for the first half of the season. Jeremy [Sochan] is like a swiss army knife, he can shoot the three, he could play the four and he could play the five. We just had so many weapons. Fully healthy, there’s no team that stood a chance.”
How did you make the decision to return? What were the biggest factors?
“After the last game happened, everybody kind of went home and just spent time with family. I took full advantage of that; I hadn’t seen my parents in a long time so I was focused on them. I told the coaches I’m not going to make my decision yet, I’m going to spend time with my family. When the time came, I sat down with my family and said, ‘Here are the possible outcomes and possible decisions,’ and I made my decision based on conversations I had with my parents and with the coaches. The biggest reason for my decision was my academics. My dad always tells me, ‘Hey man, you have that degree and you have all these accolades to go along with it, nothing can stop you,’ so for me it was just seeing the bigger picture. At times that was really hard because you ask any player in college and all they’re thinking about is the NBA. I just had to swallow that tough pill and lockdown right now and focus on school.”
Outside of your parents, who were the biggest influences on your decision?
“The coaching staff as a whole, but for me the most important thing was my teammates. When I spoke to them it was about how we have an opportunity to do something really good. We already have the chemistry, we’ve been together for some time. I have an opportunity to see those same guys as well as the talent coming in who are all willing to buy in. When you look at the overall picture, why not? Why wouldn’t I take advantage of that?”
Next season, what do you see from this team?
“You have that bad taste in your mouth knowing we could have gone all the way, but circumstances didn’t allow that. I definitely feel like we have an opportunity to be better. We’re still waiting on a couple of guys’ decisions, but if they do decide to come back then most definitely. If they don’t come back, we still have an opportunity to be really good with the guys that we have. Let’s not forget about the five-star All-American coming in, so there’s an opportunity to do something great.”
What are your plans for after college, what are you striving for?
“After basketball, I have a lot of things that I want to do. After I’m done playing I want to open up a nonprofit that’s going to have a partnership to give clean water to Africa. The reason I had that in mind is because growing up in Congo, we had limited access to water in general. Just having that perspective, I’ve seen a lot of kids not even have access to water in their household. They open up the tap and nothing comes out. I know there is a lot of water embedded underneath the ground, but reaching it is relatively hard. Making it accessible, creating more wells and giving awareness to people who have an opportunity to make a difference to other kids and other nations. I want to make a difference in my culture, because I have an opportunity to do something big. As an athlete, saying big means championship, but that’s just a little piece of metal. For me, something big is making a difference in someone’s life.”