Hamidou Diallo recoiled from the suggestion that the appeal of making history by going to the NBA after never playing as a college player could clinch his upcoming Kentucky-or-NBA decision.
“I’m not thinking about making history,” he said Thursday at the NBA Combine. “I mean, I’m just thinking about being a professional basketball player for a long period of time. Not just the short term. So I’m not thinking of short-term history.”
This answer echoed something his AAU coach, Andy Borman, said about how Diallo will make this life-changing decision. The telling clue came when Diallo did not hire an agent, which would have closed the door on returning to Kentucky.
“Because he’s a smart kid … ,” Borman said. “My experience with Hamidou (indicates that) he’s not going to make an emotional or immature or a gut decision. He’s going to gather intelligence. He’s going to gather feedback and knowledge.”
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In assessing Diallo, NBA teams will have limited intelligence, feedback and knowledge. Because he hasn’t played in a competitive game since leaving high school in December, Diallo has been dubbed the mystery man of this year’s NBA Draft process.
UK Coach John Calipari, who attended the Combine Thursday, suggested the mystery made Diallo a more intriguing and appealing prospect for NBA teams. It’s a reason Calipari said he advised Diallo not to play in the Combine’s five-on-five games here.
“He didn’t play (for a year) and he’s all this,” Calipari said. “So keep not playing, and you’re a lottery pick.”
Diallo smiled broadly when told about Calipari’s assessment of upward mobility.
“The less they know, the more they (want a player),” the UK coach said. “(Shoot), you may go No. 1. Keep laying low.”
Describing himself as a competitor, Diallo said it was difficult not playing for Kentucky after arriving at the end of the fall semester, and then not participating in Combine games.
“Definitely tough, seeing guys play and I’m not going out there and playing with them,” he said. “It’s just trust in the process.”
Diallo bristled when a reporter asked if it might be too daunting to play for the first time in such a high-profile setting.
“Oh, no, not at all,” Diallo said. “I’m a competitor. I feel I can come out and compete on any given night.”
While acknowledging that the less-is-more rationale for not playing was “a little strange,” Diallo said he was relying on “good advisers, people in my corner.”
As for never leaving the bench during a Kentucky game last season, Diallo said that this was “mostly my decision.” It was based on two factors: He felt he was behind his teammates, and he said he didn’t want to disrupt team chemistry.
Diallo nodded when asked if the overall description of his game as long on athleticism but short on basketball savvy was accurate. But he said he was more skilled as a player than people thought, and his one semester at Kentucky had made him a “different player.”
Diallo did well in the Combine’s agility tests. He had the highest vertical leap of any player (44.5 inches) and the second-fastest three-quarter court sprint (3.11 seconds).
In its mock draft projections updated on Thursday, DraftExpress had Diallo being taken with the seventh pick of the second round. If Diallo has a standard that must be met in order to remain in the draft, say assurance of being taken in the first round, he would not say.
Diallo said he wanted to get feedback from NBA teams, then make an informed decision about either returning to Kentucky or, like it or not, making a bit of basketball history.
When asked about any unhappy Kentucky fans should he decide to stay in the NBA Draft, Diallo said, “It’s just a situation that occurred, a situation I might have to take advantage of. As a kid, it’s something I always dreamed about. If the door’s open, I feel like it’s the right thing to do for me, and the right thing for my family.
“Anybody who really has anything negative to say, I feel like at the end of the day, I’m the one playing and the one trying to provide for my family.”
NBA Draft Combine
When: 3 p.m.