MHERST - He's a tall, thin, 20-year-old African with raw basketball skills, but his tantalizing athleticism and knack for shot blocking has the University of Massachusetts basketball coaches excited.
Four years ago, that was Stephane Lasme. Today it's Papa Ousmane Lo.
With Lasme graduating after this season, one of his potential replacements shares similar roots. Lo, a 6-foot-9 big man from Theis, Senegal, who is currently playing at the Winchendon School, signed with the Minutemen in November.
Lasme struggled when he first arrived from Gabon, but has steadily emerged into one of the best players in the Atlantic 10 and one of the best shot blockers in the nation.
It won't be easy for Lo. The comparisons are too easy to make. Lasme will be the standard Lo is judged against for his entire career.
"Papa is going to have a tough time, because Stephane has set the bar high. It's put some unrealistic expectations on Papa," UMass coach Travis Ford said. "I had never really coached a shot blocker. After last year we said we've got to find somebody like Stephane to always have in our program."
Lo is a close friend and teammate of Lasme's younger brother Romaric at Winchendon. Lo has gotten to know Stephane Lasme and has tried to emulate parts of his game.
"He's like a brother for me. I met his brother at Winchendon School," Lo said. "Second he's like my idol. I watch him play. I'm proud of him. I try to see as much as I can to see what he is doing so I can improve myself. I have to follow him when I go to UMass."
Ford encouraged Lo to keep following Lasme's example. "He should. That's one guy he should model everything after," Ford said. "As a basketball player and as a person, I can't think of a better one."
Lasme, who recently became the UMass career leader in blocked shots with 340, said he hoped when record was broken that Lo would be the one to accomplish the feat.
"I like his game. He works hard," Lasme said. "If somebody is going to break my record, he's a very good shot blocker."
Matt Vautour can be reached at email@example.com. For more UMass coverage including a frequently updated UMass sports blog, go to www.dailyhampshiregazette.com/umsports.