LEXINGTON, Ky. — John Calipari has been trying to remake Hamidou Diallo into an attack-first, shoot-when-wide-open guard since the former 5-star recruit enrolled at Kentucky in the middle of last season. Almost a year later, Diallo finally made his college debut Friday night against Utah Valley.
He was (almost) everything Calipari wanted him to be in delivering 18 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists and just 1 turnover. He shot 50 percent from the field and sank 2 of 4 3-pointers.
“If that’s who Hami is every night, we’re going to be fine,” Calipari said after a closer-than-expected, 73-63 win over the Wolverines to open UK’s season. “Now, defensively, he’s got a long way to go. But he’s now saying, ‘Coach, tell me how you want me to play offensively,’ and he’s playing that way.”
Diallo was a huge part of fifth-ranked Kentucky’s comeback from a 12-point deficit in the second half. He finished off two Shai Gilgeous-Alexander steals with crowd-pleasing dunks during an 18-0 run. Then when Utah Valley regained the slightest bit of momentum, he sank a 3-pointer and pull-up jumper in quick succession.
“I think that’s exactly what we all envision him as and what we need him to be for us as a team,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “He was special tonight.”
Diallo, who withdrew from the NBA draft at the 11th hour this spring, can feel himself transforming. The biggest difference Friday night was that he wasn’t really thinking about the changes Calipari has asked him to make.
“We’ve been working on it so much, it’s just me now,” he said. “So what he wanted me to be is just me. That’s who I am, that’s what I adapted to, and that’s what I’m going to be the rest of the season. It feels much better.
“It’s just the player that I have to be for this team and for myself.”