The Sunday announcement by Kentucky guard Hamidou Diallo that he was entering his name in the NBA Draft — but leaving himself the option to return to college by not retaining an agent — created quite the stir in Big Blue social media.
Diallo, a five-star recruit from Queens, N.Y., joined the UK program at mid-semester this year. Per an agreement with UK Coach John Calipari, he sat out the rest of the 2016-17 season as a redshirt.
Now, the 6-foot-5 wing has until May 24 to make a final decision on whether to play for pay next winter or return to UK.
Look, if Diallo can go in the first round of the NBA Draft, no one should begrudge him. As a rule, acquiring a job that can make one (close to) an instant millionaire tends to be a good thing in life.
That said, I am sympathetic to UK fans who are developing whiplash from watching the revolving door in and out of the Wildcats basketball program in the one-and-done era.
Still, Kentucky has survived the departure of high-profile “none-and-done” players before (I am defining “none-and-done” as players who actually made it to the UK campus but did not end up playing. That eliminated Bill “Poodles” Willoughby, who signed with UK for 1975-76 but instead turned pro out of high school):
Gunther Behnke scored 29 points and claimed 15 rebounds, and the Germans defeated the U.S.
Walker and Blackmon came back to Lexington and told the Wildcats head coach, Joe B. Hall, that UK needed to sign Behnke.
Kentucky did just that.
Yet, after Behnke came to Lexington to start school for the 1984-85 season, he lasted only five days.
“(Behnke) wouldn’t leave his high school girlfriend,” Hall told me in 2015. “When we recruited him, his father promised me he would stay (at UK), that he wouldn’t let him leave. But Gunther called his Dad every day for five days. On the fifth day, the father called me and said, ‘I know what I said, but I’m going to let him come home.’”
When Kemp, an athletically explosive 6-foot-11 power forward from Elkhart, Ind., signed with Kentucky and Eddie Sutton for the 1988-89 season, he had to sit out the year after failing to qualify under NCAA freshman eligibility requirements.
Some two months into Kemp’s first semester at UK, someone stole some gold chains belonging to Cats point guard Sean Sutton. Kemp subsequently tried to pawn the chains.
“I’m not a thief,” Kemp later told Sports Illustrated about the incident. “I’ve never spent a day in jail and I was never even questioned by the police. (Pawning the chains) is a different story. It was a mistake. But I’m not a thief.”
Kemp left UK and transferred to Trinity Valley Community College in Texas. After his freshman year, he declared for the NBA Draft and went on to play 14 seasons in the NBA, making the All-Star Game six times.
3. A Turkish pro. An offensively-skilled 6-11 center from Turkey, Enes Kanter had originally committed to Washington but signed with Kentucky before the 2010-11 season.
However, Kanter’s status as an amateur basketball player — and therefore his college eligibility — were questioned because he had played for a Turkish pro team, Fenerbahce.
Ultimately, the NCAA ruled that Kanter had received $33,033 in excess of permitted compensation for necessary expenses in the third of his three seasons with Fenerbahce.
In spite of two appeals by UK, the NCAA held firm and Kanter never played for Kentucky.
With Josh Harrellson stepping into the starting center spot that Kanter would have occupied, UK nevertheless made it to the 2011 Final Four.
Kanter finished out his year at Kentucky as a “student assistant coach.” He then went No. 3 overall in the NBA Draft to Utah. In six NBA seasons, Kanter, now with Oklahoma City, has averaged 11.3 points and 6.7 rebounds.
So, if Hamidou Diallo stays in the draft, he will hardly be the first ballyhooed basketball recruit to make it to the UK campus yet leave without ever playing for the Wildcats.