Robert Stevens, Special Assignments Reporter
On June 23, news broke on the passing of Christopher Bamba while at Rondout Creek just outside his hometown of Kingston in High Falls.
The 6 foot 7 inch forward had just completed his freshman season with the Utica College Pioneers and was planning a return this summer to train just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
It was here that he showed a glimpse of his abilities including a breakout game against Cazenovia, where he fought for 11 points and four assists in just 13 minutes.
Men’s Basketball Head Coach Sean Coffey had nothing but positive comments when describing his work ethic and the potential he had for the game.
“He was a grinder,” Coffey said. “He wanted to be good so bad. He just had a ton of energy.”
Jeslyn Files, a dual-sport student-athlete at Utica College, could tell Bamba’s abilities were something that could only be described as special.
“On the court, he was a different breed,” Files said. “He was a freak athlete who wanted to be great.”
What was different about Bamba was his ability to do things off the court as well as with the people that were around him. Coffey even talked about how it was the little moments with Bamba that made all the difference.
“He was very quick-witted,” Coffey said. “I’d go meet him early for practice and I’d have my workout clothes on. And all the time he would bust my chops about my shorts and attire. He would just go ‘Coach, come on. Those shorts are terrible, just terrible.’ Those will always be my favorite memories of him.”
Bamba took the role of student-athlete seriously in the classroom. He was more than a basketball player. In his one year at Utica College Chris was placed on the Dean’s List twice achieving a 4.0 GPA in his first semester and a 3.8 GPA in his second semester.
“Nothing was too big for him to attempt and nothing was too small to be beneath him,” Coffey said. “He was the ultimate example of how to carry yourself each day.”
In his time at Utica College, Bamba made an impact that was unique for people his age. In the times when he wasn’t training to be “the left-handed Kevin Durant” or studying for his next exam, he focused on making a difference and being a friend that anybody could count on.
“No matter what, he was always smiling, laughing, and making light of the situation,” Files said. “I remember I had a hamster and it escaped and Chris came over. And we sat in the living room for hours waiting to see if it would come out. The entire time he was just making jokes and messing with me. That was just the type of relationship we had. Even if he didn’t really know you, he would make an effort.”
Outside of the Utica community, Bamba knew where his roots lied. Being a first-generation college student, he was focused on bringing what he learned back to the area of Kingston.
Coffey said his quick rise to success didn’t cause Bamba to lose sight of the end goal.
“As he achieved success, he remained the same in terms of the little things and playing with the kids in the Boys and Girls Club at Kingston,” Coffey stated. “He was focused on being the first in his family to go to college, but he had such big plans to go back and help out his community.”
On Aug. 27, the day that would have been Bamba’s birthday, the men’s basketball team came together to celebrate the life of Bamba outside of the Herald T. Clark Athletic Center.
What was expected to be a small gathering turned into so much more.
“We thought we were going to be by ourselves,” Coffey said. “All of a sudden, people started coming out of the resident halls. It was really nice to see people on campus, different teams, and organizations that he was able to touch. It makes you forget he was only on campus for a semester and a half.”
Files was one of the many who showed up outside of the Athletic Center that day. She was deeply touched by the tribute and the message they were trying to send.
“They’re trying to keep his name alive and his number alive,” Files said.