A less-is-more cloak of mystery seemingly elevated Hamidou Diallo’s stock in this year’s NBA Draft. But, ultimately, the reason he decided to play next season for Kentucky might have been because less was less.
Diallo, who practiced but did not play for Kentucky after joining the team in January, supposedly intrigued pro scouts. During the NBA Combine, UK Coach John Calipari said the thrill of the unknown could improve Diallo’s draft position.
But two men who coached Diallo before his arrival at Kentucky said that the air of mystery could have been a factor in his decision to return to UK.
“I talked to a lot of NBA teams … ,” said Tom Espinosa, who coached Diallo in high school. “At the end of the day, I don’t think a team could guarantee they’d draft him in the first round. That’s just my personal feeling. That’s why he made the decision to go back.”
Andy Borman, who coached Diallo on the AAU circuit, echoed the sentiment. Because Diallo had not played since high school games in December, it was hard for NBA teams to be confident in their assessment of him, and hard for the player to be sure of where he’d be drafted, he said.
“I think it was the hardest decision for him because he had the biggest range,” Borman said. “Guys were saying mid-first (round) to second round.
“One of the reasons it was a hard decision and a drawn-out decision is because just like GMs had a lack of information and knowledge on Hamidou, he had a lack of information and knowledge on exactly where he was going to go.”
Jonathan Givony, an analyst for DraftExpress.com, said he was not surprised Diallo exited the draft.
“There wasn’t a lot of enthusiasm around him,” Givony said.
Diallo certainly gave NBA teams plenty of time to become excited about drafting him. According to a news release, he informed UK of his decision to return to the team only minutes before the NCAA’s 11:59 p.m. Wednesday deadline for withdrawal from the draft in order to retain eligibility.
This almost literally last-minute decision did not surprise his former coaches.
“I thought it would be 11:58,” Espinosa quipped. “Just the way it is. He’s always doing the unexpected.”
Borman said that Diallo had always been deliberate in significant basketball decisions: Choosing an AAU program (Borman’s New York City Rens), transferring to Putnam Science Academy in Connecticut, leaving the school to join the UK team.
“Every single decision I’ve ever seen him make … has never been impulsive or emotional,” Borman said. “I think part of the reason it took so long is because, personally, I think he had the hardest decision of anyone in the draft.
“He was the biggest mystery and the biggest wild card. Every other guy in the draft, these GMs and these pro scouts had a year of game film (to study).”
In the news release, Diallo did not say specifically what led him to return to Kentucky rather than remain in the June 22 NBA Draft. He said that entering his name in this year’s draft was part of his original plan to train with UK, test the waters and then make a decision.
“That plan still hasn’t changed,” he said in the release. “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.”
Every single decision I’ve ever seen him make … has never been impulsive or emotional. I think part of the reason it took so long is because, personally, I think he had the hardest decision of anyone in the draft.
Andy Borman, Hamidou Diallo’s AAU coach
The NBA Combine this month confirmed half of the consensus view of Diallo: a gifted athlete whose basketball skills need polishing.
Diallo’s vertical leap of 44 1/2 inches was the second highest ever recorded at the Combine. His wingspan of 6-foot-11 1/4 included a standing reach of 8 feet, 5 1/2 inches.
As for the basketball skills, Diallo made only 16.7 percent of his three-point shots in Nike EYBL games, according to NBADraft.net. He did not play in the five-on-five games at the NBA Combine.
Borman said NBA scouts asked him about Diallo’s practice habits and his effort level. “Standard research questions,” Borman said.
When asked how he responded to such questions, Borman said, “I told them the truth. His motor is incredible. The kid is a gym rat. He has a desire to be great. With me, the kid wanted to be coached, and he wanted to be held accountable.
“In the world I live in, in AAU, you have certain kids who think they’ve already arrived. And Hamidou wasn’t that. Hamidou said, ‘Push me, hold me accountable, make me better because I don’t know everything. By the way, I want to know everything. Teach me.’”
Diallo’s relative lack of experience also prompted NBA questions, Borman said.
“He’s never walked into a gym where 20,000 people cheered and 20,000 people booed him,” the AAU coach said. “And then on ESPN prime time with a game on the line down two. It’s not just skill development (that prompts questions). I think it’s development of experience.”
Presumably, that experience will come playing for Kentucky next season.
In addition to playing in the NBA, winning a college national championship was one of his basketball goals, Diallo said in the news release.
“I can’t wait to play in a Kentucky jersey for the first time,” he said.
Borman said he exchanged text messages with Diallo on Wednesday night. The AAU coach pledged his support for whatever Diallo decided. Diallo expressed enthusiasm for what he and Kentucky could achieve next season.
“I think the kid had a lot of different voices with a lot of pressure to make a decision,” Borman said. “And I think now that that decision is made, now comes the fun part.”