A Kentucky team leader who has never played a college game? Hamidou Diallo acknowledges how illogical that sounds.
“Yeah, definitely,” he said. “It’s kind of a weird situation.”
But lead this season Diallo intends to do. Although a redshirt freshman with one semester of practice in his entire UK career to date, he is a relative graybeard on this team.
“I’m somewhat a freshman,” he said. “Then again, I’m not. I’m just happy in the position that I’m in: to lead these guys. Coach (John Calipari) has given me the leadership role. I feel like it’s really big. And I’ve taken it since Day One and just tried to become a better leader.”
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Along with freshman point guard Quade Green, Calipari sees Diallo as a team leader. Diallo defined leadership as holding teammates accountable and spurring them to give their best. It can involve what diplomats like to call a frank exchange of views.
Of Green’s fitness to lead, Diallo said, “He’s a PG (point guard) and he’s as vocal as me. And he speaks his mind. He lets everybody know they have to get it in gear.”
Although he has yet to play a college game, Diallo is experienced as a leader. He said he has led teams in the past.
“I just feel it’s the type of person I am,” he said. “I’m very vocal, and I speak my mind. ... That’s just always how I’ve been, and that hasn’t really changed.”
Diallo did play this past summer for the United States team in the U19 World Cup. He averaged 10.9 points, 3.9 rebounds and 18.4 minutes.
Calipari, who coached the U19 team, also had UK freshman PJ Washington among his players.
“Most of it is getting in great shape,” Calipari said of the potential benefits of the U19 experience. “Most of it is (learning that) every possession matters, and you can’t act like stuff doesn’t matter.”
Recruiting scouts thought Diallo looked bored in his fall semester at Putnam Science Academy, perhaps a reason he opted to come to UK at semester break and get a head start on college.
Calipari suggested that he was looking ahead to this season and the incoming high school class of 2017 when he agreed to Diallo being a practice player.
“I thought ‘Hami’ was important for this class because of his athleticism and his ability to get to the basket,” Calipari said.
Diallo came to Kentucky with a reputation for being an ultra athlete who needed to polish his basketball skills. Diallo flashed his athleticism with a 44.5-inch vertical leap at the NBA Combine. It was the second-highest leap ever recorded there.
Combining this athleticism with a 6-foot-5, 198-pound frame makes Diallo seem like a candidate to be Kentucky’s defensive stopper. Perhaps he can be a latter-day DeAndre Liggins.
“He has the athleticism (and) the length,” Calipari said. “As a matter of fact, he’s bigger than DeAndre. He doesn’t have the discipline. But I’d imagine neither did DeAndre early.”
The polished skills will be on display this season, Diallo said.
“I would say, right now, from the last time people have seen me play, I’m a totally different player,” he said. “My skill set has gotten much better, and my shot has gotten much better. … I’m a full, complete basketball player. I’m not just an athlete.
“It’s been great so far. A bunch of people have told me I’ve gotten much better. I just can’t wait ’til the games start.”
Jerry Tipton: 859-231-3227, @JerryTipton