EDITOR’S NOTE: John Calipari is preparing to put his youngest team yet on the floor — and that is saying something — for the 2017-18 season. Among the 11 scholarship players on the Kentucky roster, eight are freshmen, three are sophomores and … that’s it. There is enough talent for a deep postseason run, but also enough inexperience for Big Blue Nation to be concerned. So in our Final Fourcast series, we’ll be breaking down each of the Wildcats and what role they might play in pursuit of a fifth Final Four in nine seasons under Calipari. Today, it’s redshirt freshman shooting guard Hamidou Diallo.
Hamidou Diallo is a 6-foot-5, 190-pound redshirt freshman from Queens, N.Y. Diallo was a member of Kentucky’s 2017 signing class, but he enrolled in January and was with the team for much of last season. He practiced but didn’t play. After participating in the NBA combine, Diallo decided to return to college. He was ranked as the No. 1 shooting guard and No. 11 overall prospect in the 2017 class by Scout.com.
How he fits
Diallo will take on a leadership role as a returning player, even though he was only on campus for one semester. Kentucky’s backcourt was decimated by the losses of De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, Isaiah Briscoe, Dominique Hawkins and Mychal Mulder. Diallo will be heavily relied on as the likely starting shooting guard.
Diallo’s athleticism is known. He showed that at the NBA combine in May. He recorded the second-highest vertical jump (ever) at the combine: 44.5 inches. He showed off a nearly 7-foot wing span and his 3/4-court sprint and lane agility times were among the best at the combine.
“I’ve heard mixed things — plenty of good things, plenty of things I need to work on — but definitely a lot of interest,” Diallo said at the combine.
The New York product had one foot in the NBA and one at Kentucky, but ultimately he leaned toward Lexington. The common criticism about Diallo is his shooting. Because Diallo sat out last season, the sample size is extremely small. Diallo shot 27 for 53 (51 percent) at the FIBA U-19 World Cup in Egypt this summer. He struggled behind the arc, going 2 for 10.
If Diallo’s shot goes missing, he’ll likely have to rely on his athleticism to get in the lane and make things happen. Regardless, he’ll have plenty of chances to prove himself.
What they’re saying
“I think the semester he had with [Calipari] last year really helped polish his game — but he hasn’t lost any of that reckless, insane athleticism. It’s pretty amazing to me that he went to the NBA combine, put up those numbers, worked out for teams, had a chance to go in the first round and then decided to still come back.” — Dick “Hoops” Weiss
“Highly rated shooting guard prospect who continues to make strides with his frame and skill level. Tremendous athlete who plays with a very high intensity level. Will need to refine his jump shot, ball-handling and passing ability, but has significant potential with the strong foundation he already brings to the table.” — DraftExpress profile
Diallo likely will start for Kentucky, and it won’t be a surprise if he leads the team in minutes played. The Wildcats have a bevy of versatile wings in Wenyen Gabriel, Kevin Knox, Jarred Vanderbilt, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jemarl Baker, but Diallo should be at or near the top of that list as far as contributions go.
Next in the series: Point guard Quade Green (publishing Aug. 24)