Indiana Hoosiers land top transfer portal center for stunning NIL price

The transfer portal has given each player in college basketball the opportunity to become a free agent after every season, and that’s been a highly profitable arrangement for the select few coveted by the biggest brands in the sport. Oumar Ballo knows it better than anyone.

Ballo was a four-star, consensus top-100 recruit in the class of 2019 behind top dogs like Anthony Edwards and James Wiseman. He committed to Gonzaga, redshirted his freshman year, and played sparingly the Zags’ nearly undefeated juggernaut in 2021. When assistant coach Tommy Lloyd was hired by lead Arizona, Ballo followed. He’s been better of the more productive big men in the country each of the last two years as a bruising low post scorer and rebounder who is stout enough in the paint defensively.

Ballo has one more season of eligibility because every player who was enrolled during the pandemic gets an extra “Covid year.” He elected to leave Arizona and enter the transfer portal, where he was considered arguably the top center available in a class that also includes former Indiana State big man Robbie Avila. Ballo was going to a big target for a school desperate for a veteran big man, and he found a perfect fit on Tuesday afternoon.

Ballo committed to the Indiana Hoosiers. He reportedly got beyond a million dollar payday to do it.

Indiana had reason to be desperate. The Hoosiers failed to make the NCAA tournament this past season despite being ranked No. 13 in the preseason polls. Indiana had no replacement for injured guard Xavier Johnson, had zero shooting, and just seemed snakebitten all year despite a massive year from Kel’el Ware. With Ware now off to be a first round NBA draft pick, Indiana needed to find a top center to plug that hole if they wanted redemption in 2024-25. Ballo was their prized pick.

Indiana has already landed former Washington State guard Myles Rice in the portal. They’re expected to land Stanford guard Kanaan Carlyle next. If it happens, those three players would form arguably the top incoming transfer class in the country. There are also plenty of appealing pieces still in Bloomington from last season, including bouncy forwards Malik Reneau and Mackenzie Mgbako.

Goodman had said on a podcast earlier this season that Indiana had about $4 million to work with in its NIL pool. Head coach Mike Woodson can’t afford another down season, and he put that money to good use. It’s too bad he lost out on a commitment from five-star wing Liam McNeeley, because then IU would really be cooking. Even still, this team looks like a Big Ten contender once again almost overnight — provided Woodson can cobble together enough shooting.

It would have been hard to imagine even five years ago a college basketball landscape where a player was transparently getting paid more than a $1 million for a season, but that’s the new world of the sport. The system is especially great for the top of the top. Indiana and Ballo just proved that.

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