By Tom Ballato
Mustapha Traore finished his first professional season overseas in Iceland. The forward from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, has taken advantage of everything that’s come his way but isn’t forgetting the opportunity Monmouth gave him.
The former Monmouth forward spent five years in West Long Branch, New Jersey. His time with the program is something he’ll never forget. “We had a great coaching staff, and my teammates were incredible. Justin Robinson, who is in Russia right now, Austin Tilghman, Deon Jones, and Chris Brady, those guys took me under their wing when I was a freshman. They showed me the ropes,” Traore said.
When Traore sat out as a redshirt freshman, Monmouth went 28-8, and they followed it with a 27-7 season, but both years they failed to make the NCAA Tournament. It was tough because he feels they got snubbed, but those experiences motivated him and his teammates. He thought that they had a chance to make the tournament last season before the season was cut short because the team was ready to make a run.
Monmouth was an excellent fit for both the program and Traore, who spoke highly of his time at the university. He played the center position, a role his coach, King Rice, put him in. Traore would do anything for Rice, who was a great mentor and someone who believed in him.
He would close out his Monmouth career with 611 career points and 520 career rebounds in 123 games.
After graduating, Traore was in the gym with friends working out every day before the season. “I wanted to be ready to play overseas, and we didn’t take a day off,” Traore said.
In September, he signed his first professional basketball contract in Iceland with UMF Skallagrimur Borgarnes, a club in the Icelandic Basketball Federation.
Traore enjoyed his time in Iceland. He’s visited the Blue Lagoon, Iceland’s capital city, Reykjavík, and took advantage of his free team to do some sightseeing.
While taking advantage the beautiful country, Traore relished having his own place, bonding with teammates and embraced the coaches’ role for him. He’s watched more film, understood what it takes to be a professional, and absorbed all the advice that has been given to him.
His season began at the end of September, but after one game, Traore returned home because games were postponed due to Covid-19. He returned to Iceland after New Year’s and played an additional six games
In his seven games in Iceland, he’s averaged 17.8 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 3.5 assists. The coach gave him the green light, with some restrictions, but Traore was the go-to guy on his club. His athleticism and quickness have helped him get by against the veterans in Iceland.
Traore was used to being the go-to guy, a role he once had in high school. “It feels good to be the go-to guy again, to be honest. I love taking big-time shots, and I like being a team leader. It’s not something new to me, but I’m embracing it at this point.”
UMF Skallagrimur Borgarnes decided to go in a different direction after a losing streak and let Traore go.
He’s returned home and embraced his first opportunity overseas, and is looking forward to the future. Everything is a learning experience, and he doesn’t forget that.