Utica College men’s basketball team mourns the death of freshman Bamba
UTICA, NY – After a tough few months for the Utica College men’s basketball team, the death of freshman Chris Bamba on Tuesday is the most difficult thing the team has faced.
With the death of Kobe Bryant, an idol for many on the team, followed shortly after by the coronavirus pandemic and the social justice issues currently plaguing the country, head coach Sean Coffey said that his players had been through a lot lately, but nothing could prepare them for it.
“It’s uncharted territory for me as a coach and the first big loss for some of these guys,” Coffey said Wednesday via Zoom video chat. “They’re so close. He’s only been with us a year, but most guys think he’s been here for three.”
Bamba, 18, drowned after swimming with friends in Rondout Creek in High Falls, New York, near his hometown of Kingston.
According to the Ulster County Sheriff’s Office, around 5:40 p.m. Tuesday, first responders, including police, firefighters and emergency services, were dispatched for a water-related emergency. Preliminary investigation suggested that Bamba was in distress in the water and, despite the rescue efforts of several people, was unable to reach shore.
Divers from Ulster Hose and the Sheriff’s Office Water Rescue Team eventually retrieved him and attempted unsuccessful resuscitation efforts. Bamba was pronounced dead at the scene.
The investigation is ongoing, but early indications suggest the drowning was accidental.
“It has been my toughest 24 hours as a coach,” said Coffey. “It’s almost like one of your own children. You forget what your life was like before your son or daughter was born, it’s a little hard to imagine our program without him.”
According to Coffey, Bamba came from humble beginnings. Initially on his radar due to connections in the Kingston area, since Coffey is from the nearby town of New Paltz, he said Bamba may have been one of the first in his family to attend college.
Bamba took the opportunity to go to college and play basketball, and made the most of it. He was twice on the Dean’s List in his first year with a GPA of 4.0 in the first semester and 3.8 in the second semester.
“He had so much going on for him,” Coffey said. “He was an extremely quick-witted kid, always smiling, always had a ton of energy. He fit right in. He adapted perfectly to our campus and our locker rooms. Just a great kid. , a great person. “
On the pitch, Bamba played nine games for the Pioneers in his debut season, achieving his best game, an 11-point outing against Cazenovia on November 22. Coffey expected the 6’7 “forward to make major leaps and become an integral part of the lineup in the years to come.
“He was going to be a great player,” Coffey said. “He was an athletic freak. Being 6’7” and able to move like he did, he could just jump out of the gym. This is the hardest part, the assumptions. Just where his path was going, [it was] so high that it’s really, really hard to swallow right now. “
After informing players of Bamba’s death individually, the Pioneers met via video conference on Wednesday to discuss and mourn the loss. Coffey is hoping they will be allowed to attend funeral services, but with the pandemic going on, he’s not sure if that will be possible.
He said he would like to do something to honor the memory of Bamba and his number 5 jersey when everyone can return to campus.
“I don’t want him to be seen as the kid who had this tragic accident,” Coffey said. “This is one of my biggest fears for him because he was so much more than a tragedy.”