MORGANTOWN — There is an optical illusion that stands in the middle of the West Virginia basketball defense.
That is according to Kansas State head coach Bruce Weber, who likens the Mountaineers’ shot-blocking extradordinaire forward Sagaba Konate to that of a magician of sorts.
“He almost tricks you,” Weber said during Big 12 Media Day on Wednesday.
The scouting report on Konate is he dominated the Big 12 last season with 116 blocks.
That is 30 shy of the Big 12 record, set during the 2012-’13 season by Kansas’ Jeff Withey, but the way Konate goes about blocking shots is actually more remembered among Big 12 coaches than how many shots he blocks.
“He’s as good a shot blocker as I’ve ever seen,” Iowa State head coach Steve Prohm said. “But, when he goes off both feet and just grabs shots out of the air, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anything like that before. Guys just don’t jump off both feet at the same time and do that.”
Konate needs 22 blocks to become West Virginia’s record holder for most blocks in a career. He could make a serious run at the Big 12 record this season.
All of that is just another day at the office for a 7-footer.
What makes Big 12 coaches do a double take on Konate is he’s 6-foot-8 with basketball shoes on. He is 6-foot-6 without shoes, according to his measurements at last summer’s NBA Combine.
Hence the great optical illusion.
“You see the seven-footer back there and you might hesitate,” Weber continued. “You see him, you think you have a chance. Like I said, that’s how he tricks you. He’s one of the best two-foot shot blockers I’ve ever seen. All of a sudden, it’s boom. He’s got you.”
In two regular season games against Baylor last season, Konate combined for 16 blocked shots.
“We tried to get him drafted into the NBA single-handedly,” Baylor head coach Scott Drew said.
In the quarterfinals of the Big 12 tournament last season against the Bears, Konate blocked just two shots.
“No, we just told our guys to stop going in there,” Drew said tongue in cheek.
That option does come into play, Big 12 coaches said.
“He’s a guy you have to prepare for, especially when he’s at the back of their press,” Prohm said. “If you do have numbers and he’s there, now you have one great decision to make.”
Go at Konate or not? For TCU head coach Jamie Dixon, he tells his guys to go at Konate.
“You have to continue to attack,” Dixon said. “I don’t know if you can change the way you play. He’s going to get some blocks. Some games, he may get more than others. I don’t think you can change that aspect of it.
“We would like to make sure that he has to guard his man. That’s consistent with how we would play any big man, no matter who he is. We want to put those big guys in a position where they have to play defense on the guy they’re guarding.”
Prohm said his assistant coaches chart the number of times each game that Iowa State players get the ball into the paint.
“You can’t change that part of the game,” Prohm said. “What you can do is remind guys that if they are going to go at the rim, then to maybe get that ball up a little higher on the glass if Konate is in there.”
In the end, it makes little difference to Big 12 coaches that Konate is not some seven-footer standing in the middle, because he has earned the respect of a seven-footer.
“He has a body that maybe is two or three inches too short to be a center,” Dixon said. “But, when you have a body, athleticism and a wingspan, that makes up for those two or three inches. He certainly has those three things. That’s why he’s so successful.”
“I don’t know what his wingspan is, but it leads to a lot of blocked shots,” added Drew. “He plays a lot bigger than his size.”