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Kentucky Basketball Roster Review: Hamidou Diallo; Potential coming to fruition?

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After all the hype that Diallo has built by sitting out a year, he’ll now hit the floor for Kentucky with great expectations.

Jeremy Chisenhall/A Sea of Blue

Welcome to the roster review for Hamidou Diallo. Some may call it weird to do a roster review piece on a player that didn’t play last year, but we’re doing it anyway.

Hamidou Diallo may have the highest ceiling of any player in college basketball this year. He’s 6’5” in shoes, weighing 197 lbs with a wingspan of 6’11”. Oh, and he can jump 44.5” (that’s nearly four feet, for those of you keeping track at home).

Athletically speaking, Diallo is the Holy Grail of guards. But the issue is that all we have are Diallo’s physical and athletic measurements. Aside from his measurables, we know only this: his jumper needs work. And thanks to him redshirting last year, we didn’t get to see it’s progress.

Also because of that decision to redshirt, Diallo’s entire body of work was shrouded in mystery when he submitted his name to the NBA Draft. NBA scouts and front offices salivated over his athleticism, and prayed his jumper would improve. For weeks, even months, all we heard about Diallo was his potential.

Diallo not playing meant we didn’t know much about how far his game had come. But what everyone did know is that he was going against some of the best guards in college basketball in De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk and Isaiah Briscoe in practice. Plus, he was going through the ever-vigorous training routine that Calipari’s teams always go through.

Thankfully for Kentucky, Diallo withdrew from the draft to return to school. Since that decision, we’ve gotten to actually see him in action with the USA U19 team, and while he needs to improve certain areas, he was a whole lot of fun to watch. That potential he showed with his athleticism at the combine translated to monstrous dunks.

He averaged 10.9 points on 46% shooting, and put together great highlight reels.

Of course, plays like that were nothing new for Diallo anyways.

So it’s clear that the athleticism is NBA-ready, but after the World Cup, it’s clear that the shot still isn’t. Diallo shot just 20% from deep in the tournament.

But being a human highlight reel is always good for your NBA odds, and it’s a great starting point for him to build on. And Calipari knows there’s already a great skillset for Diallo to build on.

"I can't wait to get him on the court and have all of you fans see what I know," Kentucky Coach John Calipari said back when Diallo decided he would return to Kentucky. "He's a special player and a special person."

And his now-former teammates, like Malik Monk, know what he’s capable of doing on the floor.

"I think he'll take a humongous step," Monk said of Diallo to Adam Zagoria after one of his pre-draft workouts. "He's a leader, just wants to win so I think they'll be pretty good."

The work ethic seems to be there; his game is improving as we speak. But unless the three-pointer gets better, he will not improve the draft stock that had him projected in the early 20s of the first round.

And if he doesn’t amaze, it’ll be interesting to see how Kentucky fans react. With all the hype that Diallo has caused due to his great combine performance and his highlight reel abilities, they’re expecting something special this year.

But to me, Diallo is ready to amaze. Had he decided to stay in the draft, he would’ve been just fine. He probably would’ve had to play a couple years in the D-League, but he would’ve come out looking just as good as any other rookie entering the NBA.

He was ready, but now he’s got a chance to make himself a standout and get ahead of the competition at the next level. All this potential we’ve been talking about and hearing about is finally going to be shown, as it was at times in the FIBA World Cup.

That semester of experience within the UK system will make him a leader on this team, directing guys like Kevin Knox, P.J. Washington and Jarred Vanderbilt. That leadership role should serve him well.

Strap in Kentucky fans, because Diallo’s redshirt freshman year is going to be a wild, exciting, high-flying one. And it’s almost a guarantee that this season will be his only one on the court for UK.

And if nothing else, we’ll have one hell of a dunk contest to watch in every single game.

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