LEXINGTON, Ky. — Crank up the Kentucky basketball hype machine again, because Hamidou Diallo is coming back and the 2017-18 Wildcats are now officially loaded with talent at every position.
Diallo took his decision almost all the way down to the midnight deadline Wednesday, but CBS Sports’ Gary Parrish reported at 11:42 p.m. that the freshman shooting guard was pulling out of the 2017 NBA Draft and returning to school. At 12:05 a.m., Diallo finally confirmed the news himself.
“The one thing I’ve learned through this whole process is how grateful I am that I came to the University of Kentucky,” Diallo wrote in a message posted on Twitter. “Coach Cal and the staff have had my back throughout this entire journey. They were honest with me from the start, had my best interests at heart and walked me through every step. I couldn’t have asked for a better support system.”
Let's Chase Championship #9 BBN!! pic.twitter.com/9Zyd9cPUom
— Hamidou diallo (@Diallo1Hamidou) May 25, 2017
If Diallo is as good at playing basketball as he is keeping an entire fanbase refreshing Twitter nonstop for about 15 hours, Kentucky is going to be dangerous.
Even if he’s not quite that good, his return is a huge boost for coach John Calipari and the Cats, who would’ve been short on guards without Diallo, a 6-foot-5 former 5-star recruit with a a 6-11 wing span and absurd 44 ½-inch vertical leap. Those (and other) eye-popping numbers at the NBA Combine 10 days ago sparked interest from several NBA teams and cast doubt that he would ever play a game for Kentucky.
“I’m really proud of Hami,” Calipari said in a UK-issued release. “He took in all the information, asked a lot of questions, including questions to the NBA teams. I love the fact that he wants to put himself in a better position and help lead this new team to a championship. I can’t wait to get him on the court and have all of you fans see what I know. He’s a special player and a special person.”
Diallo worked out for the Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls, Milwaukee Bucks and Brooklyn Nets in recent days, then met with his inner circle and weighed the possibility of being a late first-round pick this year against the chance to turn himself into a lottery pick next year. Draft Express projected him to go 35th overall if he stayed in this draft, while ESPN had him 27th.
Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports reported late Wednesday night that several teams picking in the 20s were interested in Diallo, but he never got a high enough guarantee from a franchise to stay in the draft.
“I wanted to see where I was in the draft process so I could get a proper evaluation,” Diallo wrote in his announcement. “I hope to play in the NBA one day — just not this season. Based on the information I received by testing the waters, I believe it’s in my best interests to return to school.”
That 11th-hour decision delighted Kentucky fans, who weren’t sure they’d get to watch him play in Rupp Arena.
Diallo enrolled in January but elected to sit out the second half of the Wildcats’ season, so he remains something of a mystery. He last played competitively — for his prep school — back in December of 2016. What we do know, though, is his return makes UK arguably the most talented and athletic team in America next season.
Diallo, who wrote that he planned to pay back the university for his spring tuition had he turned pro, said that one of his goals is to win a national championship and “I can’t wait to play in a Kentucky jersey for the first time.”
The Wildcats will now have 11 former top-100 recruits and eight former 5-star prospects on the roster next season. Diallo, point guard Quade Green, small forwards Kevin Knox and Jarred Vanderbilt, power forwards P.J. Washington, Sacha Killeya-Jones and Wenyen Gabriel and center Nick Richards all were consensus top-25 recruits nationally.
The one major concern: every contributor next season will be a freshman or sophomore unless Kentucky adds one last piece in the form of Pittsburgh graduate transfer Cameron Johnson, a 6-8 wing who shot 40 percent from 3-point range in ACC play last season.
But fret and speculation over that is for another day, and Diallo’s decision ensures that whatever the Cats lack, it won’t be raw ability. They now have an embarrassment of riches in that department.
KENTUCKY’S 2017-18 ROSTER
PG Quade Green, 6-1, 5-star freshman
SG Hamidou Diallo, 6-5, 5-star freshman
SF Kevin Knox, 6-9, 5-star freshman
PF P.J. Washington, 6-8, 5-star freshman
C Sacha Killeya-Jones, 6-10, 5-star sophomore
PG Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, 6-6, 4-star freshman
SG Jemarl Baker, 6-4, 4-star freshman
SF Jarred Vanderbilt, 6-9, 5-star freshman
PF Wenyen Gabriel, 6-9, 5-star sophomore
PF Tai Wynyard, 6-10, 4-star sophomore
C Nick Richards, 7-0, 5-star freshman