LEXINGTON, Ky. – Kentucky basketball announced Wednesday that 5-star shooting guard Hamidou Diallo, a consensus top-10 recruit in the Class of 2017, has enrolled in school for the spring semester and will begin practicing with the team. Coach John Calipari also confirmed the previously reported plan for Diallo, which is not to play for the Wildcats until the 2017-18 season even though he’s eligible immediately.
“I can’t wait to hit the floor and get rolling and get better each and every day,” Diallo said in a UK-issued news release. “I chose the University of Kentucky because the plan Coach Cal had for me was just phenomenal and I felt like this was the best place for me to achieve my goals.”
The 6-foot-5 Diallo graduated high school last May and was in the middle of a post-graduate season at Putnam Science Academy in Connecticut – meaning he is eligible for the upcoming NBA draft – but decided that getting a jump on college-level training what his best path to the pros.
“What excited me was that Hamidou wanted more than anything else to train with our guys and to practice and wasn’t worried about playing games this year,” Calipari said in the release. “It gives him an unbelievable head start on next year, and as I told him, he’s being put in a position to lead next season because he’s going to have a head start on everyone else.”
Kentucky’s current team already features arguably the best backcourt in America with three former 5-star recruits and projected draft picks: sophomore Isaiah Briscoe and freshmen De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk.
Diallo was a guest on Evan Daniels’ podcast this week and told the national recruiting analyst for Scout.com and Fox Sports that “me playing against them, that’s going to help me and help them, because they’ll have a better defender to guard them (in practice). And for me, just getting used to guarding the best of the best guards in the country.”
Diallo needs work on his 3-point shot – he hit just 20 percent on Nike’s Elite Youth Basketball League circuit last spring and summer – but he’s an elite athlete and scorer. He averaged 19.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.6 steals in 20 EYBL games last year.
Calipari called him “an unbelievable defender, athletic, has great ball skills and is a terrific finisher. He’s going to challenge Malik, De’Aaron, Isaiah, Mychal (Mulder) and Dominique (Hawkins) every day, which is great for our team, as well as what they’ll challenge him to do. This wasn’t expected, but I’m so happy for him that it’s played out this way where he can come in and focus on getting better and getting ready to chase his dreams.”
The million-dollar question, of course, is whether there exists a scenario in which Diallo does play this season. While Kentucky doesn’t need another guard at the moment, what if one of the big three gets hurt? What if, like Tuesday night at Vanderbilt, two of them get in early foul trouble in a big game?
During his interview with Daniels, Diallo left the door open.
“Right now, we’re just playing it by ear. We don’t want to rush into things,” he said. “I don’t want to go over there and just put on a Kentucky jersey and just play. Just trying to protect me as much as possible. First off, I have to get used to things. Getting used to the college game, that’s pretty much the biggest thing of why I would sit out this year. But right now, we’re just playing it by ear, just trying to see what happens within these next four months.”
If he doesn’t play until next season, he’ll join at least five other top-50 recruits – including four other 5-stars – who’ve already committed to or signed with the Wildcats: point guard Quade Green, combo guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, small forward Jarred Vanderbilt, power forward P.J. Washington and center Nick Richards.
“I just feel like we could honestly go out there and be the best team in the country,” Diallo told Daniels, adding that he’s now targeting 6-foot-11 Mohamed Bama, Scout’s No. 2 overall prospect in the Class of 2017. “That’s the missing piece right there. Once we get him, I think the sky’s the limit, honestly.”