Back in January, Hamidou Diallo committed to the Kentucky Wildcats and decided to enroll immediately. At the time, he told reporters he would likely sit out the 2016-17 season to work on his game for the following year.
Fans, however, held out hope for the top-ten recruit to come in midseason and give the team a spark off the bench.
There he sat, watching his teammates from the sideline week after week. Diallo admits it was extremely hard to do, especially when the Wildcats were losing.
“That was the toughest thing I had to do all season,” he said. “Sitting on the bench, seeing them lose, knowing you can help, and having guys come up to you saying “You should play man, we could really use you,” and things like that. It was tough.”
Still, though, Diallo kept his word and sat out the entire year. With little shock, the Kentucky freshman entered his name in the draft to work out with teams and
To no one’s surprise, the Kentucky freshman entered his name in the draft to work out with teams and gauge future interest, along with learning what he needed to work on to prepare for next season.
At the NBA Combine, Diallo posted a 44.5″ vertical, the second highest in history. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that several teams in the 20-range of the draft were serious about taking a shot on him based on measurables and athleticism alone.
“A couple teams showed high interest in me, it was a back and forth thing,” Diallo said.
Becoming Calipari’s first “none and done” was a legitimate option.
On May 24, Diallo faced a decision to enter the NBA Draft on potential alone or return to school. Right before midnight, news leaked out that the freshman Wildcat would be returning for his redshirt sophomore season at Kentucky. At 12:05 a.m., he confirmed the news:
Let’s Chase Championship #9 BBN!! pic.twitter.com/9Zyd9cPUom
– Hamidou diallo (@Diallo1Hamidou) May 25, 2017
As much as fans believed he was sitting on Twitter, laughing at the BBN’s meltdown waiting for the announcement, Diallo says it really was a last-second decision.
“The decision really did take long,” he said. “It wasn’t like I was just waiting to wait. I made the decision at like 11:45 (p.m.) and I had to fill out paperwork, so I couldn’t go on social media.”
Though he returned to school, Diallo believes he learned a lot from his NBA Draft-prep experience.
“Coming back was the best decision for me and my family, so that’s what I stuck with,” he said. “I learned a lot of things about the process itself and what I have to do to prepare for the next level. I feel like it was a great process and I’m happy I did it.”
No more over-analyzing Diallo’s warmups or wondering if he was the missing piece for a title run.
Hamidou Diallo is back, and he’s excited to get to work.
“I’m definitely excited. Just to be able to get out there and actually perform, show Kentucky (fans) what kind of player I am and what kind of person I am. I’m more excited just to compete against these guys and go against some other competition,” Diallo said.
But what will Kentucky be getting from Diallo, the “veteran” redshirt freshman?
“Just a complete competitor and a leader,”Just always trying to do the little things to make sure my team gets the (win.)”
Diallo feels he has a significant advantage over some of his Wildcat teammates by getting on campus an entire semester before everyone else.
“Getting to work on my game and my skillset, getting to be around the Kentucky basketball atmosphere and knowing how things work,” he said. “I’ve gained a lot of weight and I’m a much better player. I know a lot more basketball than when I first came here.”
Diallo says Coach Cal gave him the task of leading the team this year, and he has taken the freshmen under his wing to help them become the best version of themselves.
“I feel like a bunch of those guys lean on me to try to know how things work. I guide those guys as much as possible,” he said. “I would definitely say I’m one of the leaders on this team. I took the role from day one when Coach (Cal) brought it up to me, and I’m still just trying to learn how to be a better leader and lead these guys.”
The Kentucky guard also says that his time with Calipari in Egypt for the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup has helped their relationship immensely.
“It was great, us two getting to know each other bonding,” he said. “It was more about us getting to know each other than wins and losses and numbers, things like that.”
But how will Calipari use not only Diallo, but his other star teammates this season? The Queens, NY native isn’t quite sure yet.
“He hasn’t told anyone how he’d use us this season. We’re just playing pickup basketball right now and trying to get a feel for each other and see what everyone brings to the table.
What Calipari does know, however, is that his team will be playing a lot of positionless basketball.
“I couldn’t count for you (how many times he has said “positionless.”) We had a meeting this morning, and he said it about ten times. That’s just the type of team we’re going to be this year. He says everyone needs to get work on (positions) one-through-five.”
Back in August, video leaked of Diallo playing pickup basketball in New York with NBA superstars such as Kevin Durant, LeBron James, and Carmelo Anthony, among others. For the Kentucky freshman, it was a humbling experience.
“It was a great experience. I was in shock seeing those guys actually come into the pickup. It was very eye-opening for me and a real humbling situation.”
Did he compete with some of the best players in the world?
“Definitely. I’m a competitor, and we’re all basketball players at the end of the day.”
Hopefully he learned a thing or two about how to win a championship from those guys, as well.