5-star SG Hamidou Diallo just finished up his official visit at Kentucky, and rumors are spreading that there’s mutual interest in him signing on for the second semester at UK.
Should he decide to sign with the Wildcats, he would be eligible to play starting next week (if cleared by the NCAA academically) as a freshman, despite absolutely no preparation at the college level thus far. Diallo would be eligible to enter the NBA Draft after the year, or would be able to come back to get a full year under his belt at the college ranks, with the latter being the most likely scenario.
Many viewed UCONN as the team to beat for his services, but anything can happen when Calipari gets someone on campus. Judging by the Huskies’ abysmal performances as of late (lost against Auburn 70-67 with Diallo in attendance, destroyed by Houston 62-46 today), I’d say the Cats have a legitimate shot.
Let’s look at the pros and cons of Diallo coming in mid-year:
Position of need
The three guard lineup with De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, and Isaiah Briscoe has worked well this season, but the depth at the three and four positions have left much to be desired. Wenyen Gabriel has shown flashes of potential, but defensive struggles have been an issue. Derek Willis has rebounded well, but his shot just isn’t falling and he remains a liability on defense. Mychal Mulder has shot the ball well in limited time, but defensive struggles have forced Cal’s hand to keep him on the bench, as well. (I think I see a recurring theme here.) Calipari has tried to work in various pieces at the three, but he hasn’t seemed to find his “guy” yet. Diallo is extremely versatile, and could be able to step in and provide that missing piece at the three for a deep run in the tournament.
It was touched on a bit before, but the Queens native would be able to provide a much-needed presence on the defensive side of the ball. Standing 6’5 with a 6’10 wingspan, Diallo has the measurables to be an elite defender, and has proven that at the high school level. Briscoe is an elite defender, but at 6’3, he gets physically outmatched by long, athletic small forwards in Cal’s three-guard lineup. Beyond Briscoe, guys like Gabriel, Monk, and Willis all tried, and failed, defending skilled small forwards like Justin Jackson and Deng Adel. Diallo would be a perfect fit to come in and limit these guys.
Diallo is one of the most athletic players in the country right now, and bringing that with him to Kentucky would be downright scary. Can you imagine the fast breaks with Monk and Diallo to throw lobs to? We’ve seen #SCTop10 plays all year long, and the addition of Diallo would just add to that. The 6’5 guard has tremendous ability in getting to the rim and finishing in transition, dunking all over anyone standing in his way. He’s raw, there are kinks in his game to work out, but Diallo is a match made in heaven for Calipari’s system and would flourish in this aspect.
How often does a high schooler come in mid-season and dominate at the collegiate level? Exactly. It’s just not easy. Learning an entirely new system, conditioning, building up strength to compete against D1 athletes, etc., are all things that take a while, so to expect Diallo to be the outlier is just not realistic. He may come in and show flashes of brilliance, but he would likely ride the bench and play in garbage-time situations while he adjusts to the college level. Maybe he develops well and provides a spark in post-season play? Who knows, but as of now, it’s all a crapshoot.
Lack of shooting ability
Diallo can jump out of the gym and defend at an elite level, but the dude cannot shoot the ball to save his life. His form looks decent, but for whatever reason, he can’t buy a bucket from long range. UK wouldn’t necessarily need him to come in and jack up threes, but it’s worrisome to have yet another shooting liability on the court at this point in the season. Mychal Mulder, a guard similar in size, is a gifted shooter and knows the system. Barring a major surprise out of Diallo, Calipari would almost certainly throw Mulder in before relying on a kid that just showed up, even considering the defensive struggles.
NBA Draft eligible
Diallo is technically old enough to declare for the Draft after this season, regardless of his decision to attend college. So yes, it’s entirely possible that Diallo comes in, sits on the bench for the latter half of the year, and goes pro, putting the team in a real bind for guards next season. If I had to guess, Calipari likely doesn’t sign Diallo without confidence in him returning for a sophomore season, but you never know with kids trying to reach the NBA. There aren’t many elite guards remaining in the 2017 recruiting class, so Kentucky can’t afford a wasted opportunity with little return on the investment.
All reports have been extremely positive on Diallo’s visit, with many believing the Wildcats are in the driver’s seat with a decision possibly coming soon. He will take one more visit to Arizona before sitting down and going through his options, either attending college immediately, waiting till next season to play, or entering the NBA Draft this offseason.
We shall see.