LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky basketball is poised to land yet another 5-star recruit, and he’s planning to enroll for the upcoming spring semester, but don’t get too excited about Hamidou Diallo helping the current Wildcats even if he’s on campus and eligible to play in a matter of days.
The consensus No. 1 shooting guard and a top-10 overall prospect in the Class of 2017, Diallo announced Wednesday night that he plans to reveal his college decision on Saturday at 5 p.m. ET. While Arizona, Connecticut, Indiana and Syracuse are officially his other finalists, all signs point to John Calipari winning again.
“I like Kentucky’s chances. I wouldn’t trade their position with anybody,” Scout.com national recruiting director Evan Daniels said. “It really comes down to Connecticut and Kentucky, but heading into it, Kentucky is in the best spot.”
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Diallo, an explosive 6-foot-5 athlete from Queens, N.Y., reportedly told his teammates at Putnam Science Academy in Connecticut that he’s leaving and enrolling in college this semester. He graduated from high school last season and was playing a post-grad season at PSA.
That means Diallo could actually declare for the NBA draft this summer, but that’s not the plan. Neither is playing for the Wildcats (or Huskies) in the second half of this season. His focus is on helping a college team in 2017-18.
“He’s not planning to play this second semester. He’s just going to come in and work out and try to get better,” Daniels said. “His thought process is that he needs to get in a college environment and get to a place where he can get better on a daily basis. I don’t think he’s necessarily ready to step on a college floor, because he would be coming into things very late.”
Plus, if he does pick Kentucky, that backcourt is already loaded with three former McDonald’s All-Americans and projected draft picks: freshmen De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk and sophomore Isaiah Briscoe. Fox and Briscoe both already have triple-doubles and Monk leads all freshmen nationally in scoring.
But what if there was an injury or foul trouble or the Cats simply needed a spark off the bench come NCAA Tournament time? Might Diallo be pressed into action?
“I don’t think he wants to,” Daniels said, “and if Hamidou doesn’t want to, I can’t see Cal doing that.”
While Diallo is an electric talent and freakish finisher at the rim – he averaged 19.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.6 steals in 20 games on Nike’s Elite Youth Basketball League circuit last spring and summer – his shooting needs work. He made just 11 of 55 3-pointers (20 percent) during that time.
“You know what’s interesting? His numbers aren’t good, but his mechanics are fine,” Daniels said. “So I think in time, he’s going to really improve as a shooter. Hamidou will put in the time necessary, and when you’re evaluating prospects, one of the areas you can improve the most with work ethic is shooting.”
Assuming he does choose the Cats and he does stick around, he would join an already stacked 2017 class. Point guard Quade Green, combo guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, small forward Jarred Vanderbilt, power forward P.J. Washington and center Nick Richards are all top-50 prospects who’ve picked Kentucky. All but Gilgeous-Alexander are 5-stars.
“They’ve got a dynamic point guard in Quade, they’d have an elite athlete in Hamidou, another combo guard in Shai that can impact things, a defensive presence in Nick and two of the best rebounders in the class in P.J. and Jarred,” Daniels said. “That’s a pretty well-balanced group. It would be the best class in the country.”
But say Diallo comes to Kentucky – he has until Jan. 18 to register for the second semester – and sits out this season but does improve his game substantially by practicing against other future pros. Is there a risk he’ll bolt for the draft in a few months without ever playing for the Cats?
“I don’t think you can guarantee that he’s 100 percent going to come back, because he would be stupid not to go through the draft process,” Daniels said. “Do I think that he goes? Probably not. Is it still a possibility? Yeah, I would say so. But I think Hamidou’s mindset is, ‘I’m going to be in college next year.’ ”
If that’s at Kentucky, Calipari will have another very young, very talented team in 2017-18.