After waiting on pins and needles since the NBA Combine, the first report on Hamidou Diallo’s NBA Draft decision revealed he will return to Kentucky. While we wait for that to be confirmed by Diallo and UK, here’s what is potentially in play for next year’s team with Diallo in the starting lineup.
The Cats have Their Best Player
You can debate on who is the best player on the team. The 247 Composite ranks Diallo as the No. 9 player in the 2018 class, one spot ahead of Kevin Knox and two spots ahead of Jarred Vanderbilt. I give the tie to the guy who has a one semester head-start on his peers.
For those people who love rankings, with the addition of Diallo John Calipari will be working with nine Top 50 players, eight five-star recruits and six McDonald’s All-Americans.
Kentucky will be an Elite Defensive Team
You will hear basketball bennies use the term “lengthy” incessantly when describing this team. Jarred Vanderbilt and Kevin Knox look like your traditional, lengthy small forward that can guard multiple positions, but Diallo’s wingspan still might be longer. At 6’11,” opposing guards will not be able to shoot over him on the perimeter.
Combine those three with P.J. Washington, Nick Richards, Sacha Killeya-Jones and Wenyen Gabriel, you will have four guys in the starting lineup with wingspans that are close to seven feet long. Try passing around that.
A Highlight-Making Penetrator
Prepare to see opponents get dunked on. Diallo can hit threes, but he makes his money driving and creating while attacking the rim. His length and athleticism make him the perfect player for John Calipari’s dribble-drive offense. If you’re looking for a former UK player comparison, Archie Goodwin is a poor-man’s Hami.
An Experienced Perimeter Player
We’ve learned throughout John Calipari’s tenure at Kentucky that experience is overrated, but it always helps to have an important player who’s been there before. In his one semester he learned some important lessons from some of the best:
- How to practice. All of the initial growing pains are out of the way.
- How to compete every single day. Most of these guys have been able to skate by throughout their careers, but as you saw in the 30 for 30, Coach Cal doesn’t put up with you if you aren’t constantly playing at 100 percent.
- How to balance basketball with everything else. From the fans to the classroom, he’s been there and can help his new teammates ease into the difficult transition into college basketball.
- How to guard GREAT guards. Diallo spent a semester dueling against De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, Isaiah Briscoe and Dominique Hawkins; three McDonald’s All-Americans, two Top Ten draft picks and a Sweet 16 MVP. That experience is invaluable.
That list is an abbreviated guess. I’m sure the lessons Hami learned from semester one in Lexington are countless.
Cam Johnson is (Probably) Out of the Picture
It doesn’t put the nail in the coffin of the graduate transfer’s recruitment, but it might as well. Diallo will give UK four guards on the roster to play with small forwards who excel on the wing. Johnson’s options elsewhere probably look much better than the crowded court in Kentucky.
Diallo’s decision to return is arguably the biggest draft decision since the Harrison Twins followed in Willie Cauley-Stein’s footsteps and decided to return to UK after appearing in the 2014 National Championship (giving raise to my favorite line ever uttered on KSR: “Before they split defenders, they split a zygote. The Harrison Twins return.”). We all remember what happened the following year. I’m not saying, I’m just saying.
If this report turns out to be malarkey, the Cats will be just fine, but the addition of an excellent shooting guard bumps Kentucky from a Top 15/Elite Eight team to a Top Five/National Championship contender.