The past couple of weeks have been a patriotic whirlwind of basketball for Hamidou Diallo, one of the top high school recruits in the country.
It started on June 2 — National Gun Violence Awareness Day — when Diallo and a handful of teammates from the New York Rens basketball club visited the White House to meet with staff and be recognized for their “Wear Orange” anti-gun violence campaign.
Last summer, 15-year-old Rens player Tyrek Chambers was shot while walking home with his friends. He survived but was left wearing a colostomy bag. It was far from the first act of gun violence to affect the New York City team, which now sports orange patches on its uniforms to raise awareness.
The Rens’ efforts have been featured on national news shows and in an ESPN SportsCenter mini-documentary in recent weeks.
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“It’s just protecting young athletes like me,” Diallo told the Herald-Leader. “It’s trying to keep them on the right track and hoping that they don’t get struck by a bullet. It can change your life like that. It’s not a joke. So we’re just trying to keep young kids from the inner cities off the streets.
“We’re trying to change it for the better.”
It wasn’t all serious business at the White House.
The visiting players got to play a pickup game against members of the staff, and Diallo — a 17-year-old kid from Queens — threw down a dunk on the White House court.
“Never thought I would be there,” he said. “But basketball has taken me places that I never thought I would be.”
A few days later, the game took him to the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., where Diallo has spent the past week trying out for the Team USA U18 national squad that will compete for FIBA gold in Chile next month.
Diallo — a 6-foot-5 shooting guard — was one of the most impressive performers during the first few days of training camp, and he was among 18 players to make the first cut. The final roster will be whittled to 12 players.
College coaches, AAU coaches, every kind of coach has been telling me, ‘Just work on your shot and you’ll be great.’ And that’s just all I’ve been doing.
Hamidou Diallo, five-star basketball recruit
As athletic as any backcourt prospect in the class of 2017, Diallo unleashed several powerful dunks in the training camp scrimmages, rising high over an unsuspecting Miles Bridges for one putback jam that left the gym buzzing.
Bridges is one of the most explosive players in the class of 2016 and is signed to play for Michigan State next season.
“I don’t really think about the player I dunk on,” Diallo said. “I just go after it. Just go up and whatever happens, happens.”
Diallo was also active away from the ball on offense and has the length, athleticism and attention to detail to be an impressive perimeter defender down the road.
What he needs to work on is his outside shooting, and he knows it.
Diallo made a total of eight three-pointers during the 16-game Nike EYBL regular season, shooting 16.7 percent from long range.
“It’s definitely something you have to develop,” he said. “Every great player has a great outside shot, so it’s definitely something you gotta work on and do your best at. College coaches, AAU coaches, every kind of coach has been telling me, ‘Just work on your shot and you’ll be great.’
“And that’s just all I’ve been doing.”
Diallo said he’s been working on bringing the ball tighter when he shoots, tweaking his hand placement and making sure he has his feet set and pointed toward the basket. And lots of practice, of course.
“Definitely a lot of repetition,” he said. “That’s how you get better.”
That Diallo is considered the No. 1 shooting guard in the class of 2017 and struggles to shoot from outside is a testament to how good he is in other aspects of the game.
UK extended a scholarship offer this spring after watching him several times during the high school season. Duke and UConn — he attends a high school in Connecticut — have also offered and are considered top players in his recruitment.
Diallo graduated from high school a few weeks ago, but he told the Herald-Leader he intends to stay in the class of 2017 as a post-graduate and play one more season before heading off to college.
“Right now, I’m just worried about getting better,” he said. “When I go to college, I want to be able to impact the game.”
Where he’ll play next is still up in the air.
“A bunch of schools are calling me, texting me, but I’m still wide open and still enjoying the process. I’m still trying to figure things out.”