More than 30 NBA scouts showed up in Connecticut this past weekend for the National Prep Showcase. They all made the trip to see one player in particular.
Hamidou Diallo — a major UK recruiting target and the No. 1-ranked shooting guard in the class of 2017 — has already graduated from high school and is playing for Putnam Science Academy (Conn.) this season as a post-graduate student. He’s one of the most highly touted recruits in the country, and his designation as a post-grad player makes him eligible for the 2017 NBA Draft.
The general consensus among the NBA personnel who watched Diallo over the weekend: Stay in school.
“He looked like he was just kind of out there coasting,” DraftExpress.com analyst Jonathan Givony told the Herald-Leader. “He knew that there were dozens of NBA scouts watching him, and for him to just kind of go through the motions, that kind of told me everything that I needed to know. That was the word anyway — that he’s really leaning toward the college route. I would think that this kind of sealed it.”
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Givony noted that high school games are not an ideal setting for evaluating possible NBA talent. He also left the door open for Diallo to better represent himself at a high-profile, postseason event like the Nike Hoop Summit. But, for now, college appears to be the best and most likely next step for the 6-foot-5 prospect from Queens, N.Y.
Diallo has said as much.
“Right now, I’m 100 percent going to college,” he told ESPN over the weekend.
But those are the same kind of quotes that were coming out of high school sensation Thon Maker’s camp at this time last year. Maker eventually skipped college and ended up being an NBA lottery pick straight out of high school.
Maker was also a uniquely skilled 7-footer and a more intriguing long-term prospect to NBA scouts than Diallo seems to be.
“Most of the scouts that I talked to over there said (college is) definitely the route he needs to be looking at,” said Givony, who does not list Diallo in his 2017 mock draft. “He’s not a surefire thing in this draft, or even (2018’s) draft. So he needs to go somewhere where he’s really going to be pushed. He has a lot of things he needs to work on.”
One of those things — as was apparent this past weekend — is effort.
Putnam Science Coach Tom Espinosa knows that as well as anyone.
“That’s probably one of the biggest knocks on Hami — and it’s an issue where Hami and I have butted heads in the past — that he doesn’t play hard all the time,” Espinosa told the Herald-Leader. “Sometimes he thinks he is, but he’s not. He’s matured every year that I’ve had him, he’s just not completely there yet. I wish he could play basketball at a high level for as long as he’s in the game. He definitely takes plays off.
“That’s just something that he needs to be more consistent with.”
Espinosa agreed that Diallo didn’t show any particular “sense of urgency” to impress the NBA scouts who watched him over the weekend. He also expects his star player to be playing college basketball this time next year.
“The plan has always been for Hami to go to college,” Espinosa said. “I firmly believe that he will go to college.”
Diallo, ranked by Scout.com as the No. 10 overall prospect in the 2017 class, has narrowed his list to six schools: UK, Arizona, Indiana, Kansas, Syracuse and UConn.
He could be the best athlete in the class. And that’s Kentucky — they’re long and athletic.
Tom Espinosa, Putnam Science Academy coach
John Calipari has visited Diallo multiple times this fall, in addition to watching several of his games on the Nike circuit this past summer, and UK assistant coach Tony Barbee has seen him even more. (Barbee was at the National Prep Showcase on Friday night to watch Diallo play).
Espinosa said Calipari has praised Diallo’s length (a 6-11 wingspan) and athleticism.
“He could be the best athlete in the class,” he said. “And that’s Kentucky — they’re long and athletic. Kentucky gets some talented kids, and Hamidou is one of the most talented kids in the class.”
That he is, and the so-so reviews of his play over the weekend weren’t meant as any kind of knock on his potential.
Diallo might be the most exciting player in high school basketball — see YouTube for the evidence — and Givony got a taste of that when scouting him at the USA Basketball U18 team tryouts over the summer.
“He was flying all over the court,” he said. “He was picking up full court. Shaka Smart was the coach and they were pressing quite a bit. He was a monster. He was getting steals and blocks and rebounds and pushing it — he was so good in transition.
“He’s very talented. A lot of that is the setting you’re watching him in. High school, prep school basketball is not always a great place to see a guy at his best. And that’s a reason why NBA teams like these guys going to college.”
In addition to that sometimes-waning level of interest, the main criticism of Diallo is his outside shooting ability. He was a 16.7 percent three-point shooter on the Nike circuit this summer. That’s a curious number for the player ranked as the No. 1 shooting guard in the country.
“The biggest problem is he shoots it differently, almost every time,” Espinosa said. “He needs to be more consistent with his form. Every shot should be the same, whether you’re 5 feet away or 20 feet away. … The numbers don’t lie.”
Diallo is aware of the problem, and that — along with becoming a more consistent halfcourt scorer — will be a primary point of emphasis for him this season.
All told, Espinosa said, Diallo is handling all the hoopla of NBA scouts, top college coaches and improving his game quite admirably.
“He’s a very mature kid, and he’s got great people in his corner giving him advice,” the coach said. “I’ve really been impressed with him. It’s amazing what a kid can go through, and I don’t think he could handle it any better.”
Diallo, who turned 18 in July, still hasn’t set up any official visits to the schools left on his list. He has publicly acknowledged that he’d enjoy playing alongside five-star point guard Quade Green, who signed with UK last week, and that has given Wildcats’ fans hope that Diallo will eventually join Calipari’s 2017 class.
He’s the top-rated backcourt player that UK recruited in this cycle, and the Wildcats are still looking to add two or three guards for next season.
Calipari — and the other five coaches recruiting him — will likely have to wait awhile on his decision. Diallo’s coach isn’t expecting an announcement until the spring, and he doesn’t claim to know of any favorite at the moment.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if he picked any of the six, to be honest with you,” Espinosa said.