Five-star basketball recruit Hamidou Diallo didn’t reveal his commitment to the University of Kentucky until 5:51 p.m. Saturday, nearly an hour after his announcement ceremony was scheduled to begin.
A snowstorm that had been raging all day had already blanketed Diallo’s hometown of Queens, N.Y., with about a foot of snow, according to his AAU coach, Andy Borman, who said his normally 8-minute drive to the building where Diallo played youth basketball as an 8-year-old lasted an hour and a half.
The winter weather delayed the well-wishers, but it didn’t keep them away.
“The place was packed,” Borman said. “It just shows how much of an impact Hamidou has made in the community. He’s a legitimate hero to a lot of these kids.”
Diallo announced — to an approving roar from those gathered — that he was committing to the Wildcats and will enroll in classes at UK next week. His plan is to join the team for the second semester, work out and practice with the current Kentucky players, but not actually play in a game for the Cats until next season.
No matter when he makes his UK debut, his addition is a big one for Coach John Calipari, who has added another five-star player to a 2017 recruiting class that was already ranked No. 1 in the country.
Diallo — a 6-foot-5 shooting guard and possibly the most athletic player in high school basketball — is ranked No. 9 overall by 247Sports, making him the highest-rated prospect in UK’s 2017 class.
“You’re talking about a top-10 player who could be drafted in the first round,” said 247Sports national analyst Jerry Meyer. “He’s extremely talented. He’s very long at 6-5 (with a 6-11 wingspan), and he’ll really give Kentucky some length and incredible athleticism at the wing.”
Diallo averaged 19.1 points per game for Borman’s New York Rens program on the Nike circuit last summer, wowing fans and becoming a YouTube sensation with his above-the-rim dunks. “He’s a human-highlight reel,” Borman said.
Despite being ranked as the No. 1 shooting guard in the 2017 class, Diallo is not known as a great shooter, hitting just 20 percent of his three-point attempts over the summer.
He graduated from Putnam Science Academy (Conn.) last spring and his been playing this high school season as a post-graduate player. His age (he’ll be 19 in July) and graduation date make him eligible for this year’s NBA Draft, leaving open the possibility that Diallo enrolls at UK and practices with the team but never actually plays a game at Kentucky before leaving for the pros.
That’s not Diallo’s plan, however. He’s not currently projected as a 2017 draft pick, and he expects to be a Wildcat next season.
If he doesn’t play this season, Diallo will still be categorized as a class of 2017 recruit, according to Scout.com’s Evan Daniels.
The dynamic guard joins a group that already included five-star point guard Quade Green, five-star small forward Jarred Vanderbilt, five-star power forward PJ Washington, five-star center Nick Richards and four-star combo guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. All six played on the highly competitive Nike EYBL circuit last year.
“He knows the kids who are already committed,” Borman said. “Shoot, it’s like an EYBL all-star team. It’s incredible, man.”
Diallo — pending what should be routine clearance by the NCAA — would be eligible to play immediately for the Wildcats, but, again, that’s not the plan.
Borman said that would be a tough transition for Diallo to make in the middle of the season. And the Cats already have Isaiah Briscoe, De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk playing great basketball at the guard positions, with seniors Dominique Hawkins and Mychal Mulder offering veteran backcourt help off the bench.
“It would be hard for everybody involved,” Borman said. “These kids have been lifting, running, doing conditioning, practicing, doing skill work together since the summer. They know every set, every audible, offensive and defensively, that Coach Cal has put in.
“So, for a kid like Hamidou, he needs to just come in and learn. Instead of playing second semester and playing catch-up, why not just play next year and have him be ahead of the curve.”
UK basketball commitments for the class of 2017