Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Hamidou Diallo Picks Kentucky, Adds to Star-Studded 2017 Class
By CHRIS BARCA & ADAM ZAGORIANEW YORK — High-flying shooting guard Hamidou Diallo committed to Kentucky in his native Queens, N.Y., on Saturday and will enroll for the upcoming semester beginning Jan. 11.
The 6-foot-6, 190-pound Diallo said he isn’t sure if he will play for Kentucky this season. He could opt to train and practice with the team while going up against Kentucky guards Malik Monk, De’Aaron Fox and Isaiah Briscoe,all of whom are projected in the latest 2017 mock draft by DraftExpress.com.
“They just had the right plan for me going forward, for getting me to the next level,” Diallo said of Kentucky. “I’m just relieved and blessed. I can’t wait to get on campus.”-
Because he graduated from Putnam Science Academy (CT) last year, Diallo himself is eligible for the 2017 draft. NBA scouts are expected to watch him practice this season, and he could opt to test the waters after this year.
Diallo recently took official visits to Kentucky and UConn and was considering visiting Arizona. He also considered Syracuse, Indiana and Kansas.
Ranked No. 11 by ESPN.com, Diallo becomes the sixth player ranked in the top 43 of the 2017 ESPN 100 rankings to commit to Kentucky for 2017, following No. 12 Nick Richards, No. 16 P.J. Washington, No. 21 Quade Green, No. 22 Jarred Vanderbilt and No. 43 Shai Gilgeous Alexander.
“I had a recruit on the campus last week [Diall0] and what I talked to him about is not ego, not shots, not minutes, it’s aspirations,” Kentucky coach John Caliparisaid on a recent podcast. “I had other players come in the room and tell the young man how hard this is to be here. That this isn’t for everybody. That you’re going to be with other really good players that are going to challenge you everyday. If you’re in this only to get shots and be in part and chase and go play a 2-3 zone and do — you’re not coming here.”
Because of his supreme athleticism, Diallo has drawn comparisons to several NBA stars.
“I definitely see it with his athleticism, I think he’s really unique,” Chris Alesi of the NY Rens said on The 4 Quarters Podcast. “I don’t think that there’s one guy that you can really point to, just because his game is different. But I definitely see Vince Carter, Dwyane Wade, guys who are just freakishly athletic.
“But there’s a lot more to Hamidou Diallo. He can shoot the ball better than I’ve ever seen him shoot it. And I think the biggest thing with Hamidou, wherever he ends, he is a program-changer and I’ve seen that first-hand unfold with the Rens.”
Andy Borman of the NY Rens called Kentucky a “great fit” for Diallo, adding that he’ll soon become a fan favorite among Wildcat supporters.
“He’s been the best in every single game and every single practice,” Borman said. “He wanted to play with and against the best, and that’s why he’s choosing to go to Kentucky. That defines Hamidou.
“I want to know what the record is for standing ovations at Rupp Arena, because I think he has a chance to break it,” he added. “He will die before he loses, he’s a flat out winner.”
UConn head coach Kevin Ollie and assistant Glen Miller Class spent several years recruiting Diallo, hoping he would join his former Putnam Science teammate Mamadou Diarra, who is sitting out the season with an injury.
“Next year, UConn is going to be a great team,” Diallo said Saturday. “They’ve got great players up there.”
He noted that choosing between the Wildcats and the Huskies was a brutal one, even costing him sleep over the last week. But in the end, UConn lost out to Kentucky, as many programs often do.
“I just felt like [Calipari] had a great plan for me and my family, putting me in the right spots,” he said. “They have the best platform for me to get to the next level and I think that was the biggest thing.”
Now Diallo will enjoy a mini-reunion of the gold-medal winning USA U18 national team in Lexington.
That team — coached by Texas’ Shaka Smart, UConn’s Ollie and Maryland’s Mark Turgeon — featured Kentucky commits Green and Washington, along with the uncommitted Mohamed Bamba, the 7-footer who is considering Kentucky, Duke, Texas, Harvard and Michigan, among others, and point guard Trae Young, who is considering Kansas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Kentucky.
Diallo went for 14 points on 4-for-7 shooting with 6 rebounds when the U.S. beat Canada, 99-84, to win the gold medal in Valdivia, Chile on July 23.
“Just being humble, and being with this group of guys,” Diallo said then. “We all didn’t get to play the amount that we wanted to play, but we got what we came here for. So, now we just got to go back to our homes and work on our games to get better.”
Alesi said Diallo is “destined for the NBA,” but one NBA scout who watched the USA U18 team said he thinks Diallo should head to college first instead of the NBA even though he’s eligible for the 2017 Draft.
“What I saw of him down in Houston, I thought he needed to go to college,” the scout said.
“[Markelle] Fultz and [Michael] Porter, they really impressed me,” the scout said. “Porter’s still in high school. Hamidou Diallo, I think he should just practice with the [college] team and play next year, that’s what I think. Why rush it? He needs to grow up.”
When pressed on whether he would play at Kentucky during the 2017-18 season or declare for this year’s draft, Diallo said he wasn’t prepared to make a decision either way.
“It’s in my hands, but I just committed and I don’t want to think about the future right now,” he said. “I just want to live in this moment.”
And for however long Diallo remains at Kentucky, Borman, a former Duke Blue Devil, said he’ll proudly rock Wildcat blue no matter how much it hurts him personally.
“I think this is the first time in my life I’m ever going to cheer for Kentucky,” he said with a laugh. “And that’s how much I love Hamidou, I’m going to cheer for Big Blue Nation.”
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Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.