NBA Saturday: Hamidou Diallo’s Unique Path To The NBA

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The basketball community has heard of the “one and done” prospect, but Hamidou Diallo is poised to become a unique “none and done” should he stay in this year’s draft pool.

A native of Queens, New York, Diallo participated in this week’s NBA Combine in Chicago for prospects looking to make their case to league personnel as to why they should be drafted.

But there’s a catch with Diallo. The 6-foot-4 shooting guard has never played a game of college basketball despite being enrolled at the University of Kentucky since Jan. 7.

By league rule, a player has to be at least 19 years old or at least one season removed from graduating high school to become eligible to play in the NBA. Well, after spending a post-graduate year at Putnam Science Academy, Diallo — whom ESPN ranked as the No. 12 player in the Class of 2017 before enrolling at Kentucky — meets the necessary requirements to make a jump to the big leagues despite not getting any college playing time.

After enrolling in school midway through the basketball season, Diallo and Kentucky head coach John Calipari made the decision to restrict the shooting guard’s participation to practicing with the team instead of getting in-game action. Through this unprecedented scenario, however, it’s been the Wildcat coaching staff that has had Diallo’s back.

“It’s just been a difficult process,” Diallo said to ESPN’s Jeff Goodman at Thursday’s session of the Combine. “I ended up trying to do this cause the coaching staff at Kentucky just guided me through the process and thought it was the best thing for me to do. Test the waters and see where I stand. If now was the time then so be it. I wouldn’t mind going back to the University of Kentucky. I’m still leaving both doors open.”

The Draft Combine is a showcase for players looking to impress the decision makers at the NBA level. Scouts, general managers, head coaches and agents are all littered throughout the gym, analyzing the prospects as they go through drills and other exercises.

With an air of uncertainty surrounding Diallo, the super athletic guard didn’t disappoint those looking for a little more clarity on his skill set and physical tools. Along with measuring out with a 6-foot-11 wingspan, Diallo posted the highest max-vertical leap of the weekend (and second highest in Combine history) by jumping 44.5 inches. He also registered the second-fastest time in both the shuttle run drill (2.79 seconds) and the three-quarter-court sprint (3.11 seconds).

Even without playing in any meaningful basketball for half the season, Diallo still managed to be in prime shape in part because of his opportunity to put in work while at Kentucky.

“I just worked hard every day,” Diallo said to reporters. “Going into the gym and giving it 100 percent. I’m not in the gym just going through the motions. Give it 100 percent and definitely with those guys in practice getting in live action, and training and doing live things.”

Calipari has helped 28 players from Lexington get drafted into the NBA during his time as Kentucky’s head coach. With three more players surely on their way this year in De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk and Bam Adebayo, Diallo is grateful for the guidance he is receiving through this process from someone as experienced as Calipari.

“Cal is a person that I really trust in my life,” Diallo said. “He’s been through this process more than anyone I know, or anybody that I’ve met. So, him telling me what he thinks is definitely gonna be good.”

What makes Diallo’s situation so unique, and separated from someone like Thon Maker, who was drafted 10th overall in 2016 after not playing college basketball, is that he still has the option to return to school. Should he not sign with an agent, Diallo has until May 24 to decide to return to school next season.

Bringing Diallo back into the fold at Kentucky would make the top recruiting class in the nation — which features seven players from ESPN’s Top 100 — even more lethal. Diallo’s bond with committed Wildcats like Kevin Knox, Quade Green and Nick Richards pull his heart back to Lexington. But at the end of the day, the Queens native intends to put himself first.

“I love those guys like brothers that are coming in,” Diallo said about his potential Kentucky teammates. “At the end of the day, I gotta do what’s right for me and my family. And if that’s to go to the NBA, or if it’s to come back to Kentucky.”

Despite the deep connection with his potential teammates, Diallo knows everyone is in his corner no matter what he decides.

“Those guys are really supportive of me,” Diallo said. “They understand as basketball players, they understand the grind and the struggle that we go through. So, they see and opportunity like this. I got a text from almost all the guys just telling me ‘Hey go out there and kill it, man.’ That’s what you really call brotherhood.”

After meeting with 10 teams in Chicago, Diallo will surely land more pre-draft workouts as the next 10 days unfold, leading up to the point when he needs to make a permanent decision. With his prototypical NBA athleticism and size, it wouldn’t be surprising if Diallo impressed more than one of those franchises.

If Diallo decides the NBA is calling his name this year, then his “none and done” path will most certainly be unchartered waters. But don’t expect him to focus on the abnormality of his situation.

“I think everybody has a different route to the NBA,” Diallo said. “We could sit here and talk about a lot of people’s different routes that they took to get to the NBA. Whatever best suits that one, everybody has a different route.”

Should he stay or should he go, Diallo is just focused on proving he fits in wherever he ends up.

“At the end of the day I feel like I’m a basketball player, and things happen,” Diallo said. “I just gotta wait for my chance and prove that I belong.”