CHICAGO — Hamidou Diallo knows that some Kentucky basketball fans are furious at the possibility he might bolt for the NBA without ever having played a second for the Wildcats. But his rebuttal is pretty simple: It isn’t your life.
“It’s just a situation that occurred, a situation that I might have to take advantage of,” Diallo said Thursday at the NBA Combine, where he tantalized pro scouts, coaches and general managers with some jaw-dropping measurements. “Growing up as a kid, it’s something I always dreamed about, so if a door is open, I feel like it’s the right thing to do for me and the right thing to do for my family.
“Anybody that has anything to say that’s negative, at the end of the day, I’m the one playing and I’m the one trying to provide for my family and provide for myself.”
Diallo entered the combine projected to go 36th overall — early in the second round — by Draft Express. His stock could rise significantly, though, after the numbers he posted Thursday: 6 feet, 5 inches tall in sneakers with a 6-11 wing span, a combine-best 44 ½-inch vertical leap (one of the best in history), the second-fastest sprint and fifth-best lane agility time.
Diallo still hasn’t hired an agent and wanted to make clear that it’s still entirely possible he returns to Kentucky, where he enrolled in January but sat out the second half of last season.
“I one hundred percent have both doors open,” he said. But …
There were a lot of buts Thursday as Diallo explained the appeal of playing for UK, under coach John Calipari and with his buddies in the star-studded 2017 recruiting class that is headed to Lexington.
“I love those guys like brothers, so I’d definitely miss them” if he stays in the draft, Diallo said, “but at the end of the day, I’ve got to do what’s right for me and my family, (whether) it’s go to the NBA or come back to Kentucky. Those guys are really supportive of me. They understand as basketball players (and) when they see an opportunity like this they — I got a text from almost all the guys today just telling me, ‘Hey, man, go out there and kill it. Do it for you family.’ ”
Calipari is here in Chicago to support Diallo and Kentucky stars De’Aaron Fox, Bam Adebayo and Isaiah Briscoe. He said he doesn’t plan to hold back Diallo but hopes to “protect him” from anyone who might mislead him. The coach’s goal: help his former 5-star recruit make an informed decision.
“I just hope to get good feedback and just see where I stand and see what’s the next move,” Diallo said. “I’ve heard mixed things — plenty of good things, plenty of things I need to work on — but definitely a lot of interest.”
Intrigue over Diallo is only growing the longer he goes putting up freakish measurements without playing actual 5-on-5 basketball in front of NBA talent evaluators. He backed out of the scrimmages here at the combine this week, a decision Calipari fully supported.
The more mysterious the better, Kentucky’s coach said.
“I have good advisors. People in my corner advised me not to, and those are people that I trust,” Diallo said, adding that Calipari’s recommendation in the coming days will weigh heavily in his decision. “Cal is a person that I really trust in my life. He’s been through this process more than probably anybody that I know. So him telling me what he thinks is definitely going to be good for my ears.”
Diallo said he has already interviewed with about 10 NBA teams. He wouldn’t give a cut-off line for where he’d have to be projected in the draft to return to Kentucky. In fact, when the idea of being stashed in the NBA Development League next season was brought up, Diallo didn’t balk.
“I would just wait for my chance to prove that I belong,” he said, which probably isn’t reassuring to Cats fans hoping that second-round feedback might be a deal-breaker for Diallo. “I think everybody has a different route to the NBA. Whatever best suits them.”
He later added that his life has already changed in just the four months since he enrolled at Kentucky.
“I can see my dream come closer and closer,” said Diallo, whose inner circle has told him to follow his heart, but … “It would mean a lot to my family. It could change my family’s life for a long period of time.”
Those comments are likely disheartening for Big Blue Nation, but they should also serve as a reminder to anyone who might criticize Diallo if he ultimately becomes a none-and-done: It isn’t your life.