Kentucky needs more rebounding and defense from its guards. Five-star freshman Hamidou Diallo sits on the bench as a midseason addition using this season to learn.
So . . .
Diallo and UK Coach John Calipari seemed to dash the logical conclusion that this player can fulfill these team needs this season.
Calipari reminded reporters Friday that Diallo is significantly behind because he joined the team at semester break. And the UK coaches are not devoting all their energy to helping him catch up.
“It’s hard,” Calipari said. “He’s been here a month. You’re trying to get other guys ready for games. There are times he’s off the court.”
Diallo has made an impression.
“When he’s on the court, he has a spirit about him, a competitiveness about him to go get balls, to make plays,” Calipari said. “He doesn’t play timid at all. So he’ll stand out in practices that way.”
But, the UK coach added, “To play with our guys, and how we’re trying to play, that’s the hard thing right now.”
When asked if he’s tempted to play Diallo and see if he can provide needed rebounding and defense from the backcourt, Calipari said, “No. That’s not been on my mind. It’s trying to get guys we have right now to do what they’re capable of doing.”
Diallo acknowledged that he has some catching up to do.
“A lot behind,” he said of adapting to Kentucky’s basketball ways. “. . . Quite a bit behind. But I’m getting the hang of things.”
Diallo seemed to suggest that playing this season had been considered.
Me and Coach have spoken,” he said. “I came here with a certain plan. The biggest thing for me is just sticking with that plan. . . . This semester just prepares me for next year.
“It’s been hard to do. But it’s a plan that was well-thought-out-about before coming. So it’s the plan I think is best for me to stick to.”
Diallo confirmed that fans often ask him why he’s not playing this season.
“I couldn’t be able to tell you a number,” he said when asked how often. “I tell them I don’t know because at this point, the whole story would take a lot of time.”
Diallo is eligible to enter this year’s NBA Draft. He did not rule out entering his name.
“Coming in, the plan for me was to just get prepared for next season,” he said. “That’s the plan me and Coach Cal are sticking to right now. When the season ends, me and Coach Cal will sit down and have a talk about that.”
LSU rally good?
Calipari suggested LSU’s late rally Tuesday was helpful. UK led by 25 with less than nine minutes remaining. LSU got within six inside the final 20 seconds.
“Best thing that happened to us . . . ,” Calipari said. “We were on track . . . to beat them by 30. . . . If we won by 30, possibly we would have looked at it and said, ‘OK, we’ve got this right.’”
The LSU rally delivered another conclusion. “No,” Calipari said, “this is not going to work this way.”
Alabama has outrebounded its SEC opponents by an average of 42.4-33.8. The Tide has outrebounded five league opponents by double-digit margins, and been outrebounded once: 40-37 by Mississippi State.
Calipari said Alabama will hit the glass against UK like Florida did. The Gators outrebounded UK 54-29, the biggest rebounding deficit for Kentucky since 1988.
“This team is going to shoot it, and send four guys to the rim,” Calipari said. “If your guards don’t rebound, it’s going to be ugly. If the guards rebound, we can fly. You’re giving up something by sending people to the rim. If we do what we’re supposed to, then we fly.”
Calipari said he wanted 10-plus rebounds every game from Bam Adebayo, and for UK’s guards to “stick their noses in there.”
Diallo, who is from Queens, N.Y., acknowledged the change in moving to Lexington.
“Queens is a city,” he said. “Everything is always, like, moving. Everything is always open. Here, everything is just a little bit slowed down.”
Of course, another change for UK players is the unblinking spotlight. An unneeded reminder came in the form of disgruntlement with Malik Monk smiling on the bench in the final minutes in Saturday’s loss at Florida.
“Just shows the stage we’re on is a different type of stage,” Diallo said. “Night in and night out, you’ve just got to be the best version of yourself.”
Spero Dedes and Bill Raftery will call the game for CBS.