Like a bolt of lighting, the Hamidou Diallo commitment struck and electrified the University of Kentucky Wildcats basketball team and all of the Big Blue Nation. Depending on the ranking services, Diallo is a top ten recruit and one of the best shooting guards of the 2017 class.
Now Diallo is officially a part of the 2016 class. He's on campus, and he's taking classes at UK. Most figure that he will be dressed and on the bench for the ‘Cats game against Auburn on Saturday afternoon. But don't expect him to play. Well, maybe don't expect him to play, at least not right away.
The fact is that we don't know exactly what to expect from Diallo this season and beyond. What we do know is that John Calipari has a plan for the young player: red- shirt this season but practice with the team and come back next season as a more experienced player.
When asked about his plans about playing time this season, coming back next season, and the possibility of entering the 2017 NBA Draft, Diallo left nothing off of the table. The following is from his conversation with Evan Daniels:
As for the 2017 NBA Draft, Diallo didn't rule that out as a potential option when the semester ends, though it's more because he doesn't want to rule anything out right now.
"I haven't completely ruled anything out," Diallo said. "Right now, I'm just worried about getting up on Kentucky's campus and just getting ready to put that work in, and that's pretty much it. I haven't ruled anything out though indefinitely. I‘m just happy to be a Wildcat right now. That's pretty much it. I haven't really thought about June yet."
While Diallo didn't rule out the draft, he did talk about what kind of role he hopes to have next season when he would be a featured player and leader.
Diallo is in a unique situation. He has already graduated from high school, which is why he was able to join UK right away after his commitment. He is eligible for this year's NBA Draft. He could have declared for the draft instead of coming to Kentucky. He could very well declare for the draft after his half-season with the Wildcats. Nothing is stopping him from doing it.
There is concern among the fanbase as to what Diallo will do once this season is at an end. I imagine that he would put his name in the Draft and test the waters according to the new rules set forth by the NCAA. This is a smart move for him and one that I am sure Calipari will encourage.
But what kind of response will he get? This is a loaded draft class, though Diallo will be practicing against two top-10 level guards in Malik Monk and De'Aaron Fox. Will one semester at Kentucky be enough to give him the confidence to jump to the NBA?
That's the worry. That's the gamble that Cal is taking. But it's a worthwhile gamble. John Calipari will not have any returning players in the backcourt. Monk and Fox are going pro. Isaiah Briscoe is most likely going pro. Mychal Mulder and Dominique Hawkins are graduating. The two guards that he recruited before Diallo were Quade Green and Shai Alexander. They were the only two guards he had coming in for 2017.
Having Hamidou already on campus, picking up practice habits and tips from the current players, practicing with the current players, and working on his overall game will give him an edge that his teammates in the backcourt will lack.
Plus, Diallo is a freak-show talent. He is long, strong, fast, and can leap out of the gym. His shooting leaves a lot to be desired, but hopefully, the extra time with his coaches at UK will help in that regard (see Isaiah Briscoe for results).
But the downside is that he could be half-and-done. If he plays extremely well against Fox, Monk, and Briscoe and maybe even plays some, he may think he has enough to go to the next level. And then Cal will be back to square one in regards to finding one more guard for his class, and there might not be any left by that time. He may have to rely on getting a JUCO transfer or a fifth-year senior. Neither situation is what Cal wants, and neither situation has worked out all that well for Kentucky in the past.
I think the good outweighs the bad in the Diallo situation. Cal would not have agreed to this unless he felt confident that he would get Diallo for a year and a half. If not, we do what we always do: Trust in Cal.