UK Men's Basketball

Cal extends players-first philosophy to Combine

Hamidou Diallo, center, did not play a game at Kentucky, but he could be a first-round pick in the NBA Draft.
Hamidou Diallo, center, did not play a game at Kentucky, but he could be a first-round pick in the NBA Draft.

John Calipari applies his “players first” philosophy to the NBA Combine.

Upon arriving at the Combine on Thursday and immediately attracting media attention, Calipari advised participating players to think of their own interests first and foremost. One-for-all selflessness should be reserved for a later team setting.

“If there’s no reason to play, how do you help yourself?” Calipari said of the decision many players make not to participate in Combine games. “If you’re some of our guys, you’re not going to help yourself, so don’t play.”

Hamidou Diallo, who is not playing in the five-on-five games, fits this description.

No one said so directly, but the games might not be best for someone considered ultra athletic but needing to become more savvy as a basketball player.

“I’m not a draft expert, but I don’t think there’s anyone in the draft that is more athletic than Hamidou is,” said Andy Borman, who coached Diallo on the AAU level. “He’s the type of athlete that can put on spandex and track shoes and qualify for the Olympics.

“His athleticism trumps anyone I played with,” added Borman, who was a walk-on player at Duke from 2000 through 2004.

Tom Espinosa, who coached Diallo on the high school level, said much the same thing.

“Obviously, his strengths are when the game is up and down,” Espinosa said. “In the open court, Hami’s about the best player in the country. But he struggles more in the half court when the game slows up. He has to improve his jump shot.”

Calipari used a rhetorical question to say how he encouraged Diallo to participate in the Combine’s agility tests.

“Did I tell him to try to put your nose on the rim, and let them see it?” Calipari said. “Then stay away from all the other stuff.”

Subjective objectivity?

In explaining how he promotes his players, Calipari re-defined the concept of objectivity.

“I’m very objective,” he said, “but it’s all one way.”

His follow-up comment made it sound like Calipari can give decidedly subjective player assessments when talking to NBA people.

“I’ve had my friends hang up on me,” he said. “Like, stop! I’m done! Bye! I don’t want to hear that!”

Lottery pick?

Of Bam Adebayo, Calipari said, “I’ll be stunned if he’s not a lottery pick.”

Calipari said he based this on Adebayo’s ability to defend any of basketball’s five positions and his ability to shoot from 17 feet in.

Meanwhile, updated its mock draft Thursday. It projected Adebayo being taken with the 29th pick of the first round. De’Aaron Fox was projected as the fifth pick, Malik Monk the seventh and Diallo the 37th.

Hamidou Diallo links exploring draft possibilities to the chance to take care of his family.

Less is more?

Calipari suggested that Hamidou Diallo is benefiting by a less-is-more approach to this NBA Draft process. Diallo has not played since high school games in December.

And NBA scouts who attended UK’s practices in the second half of last season probably were not focused on Diallo, Calipari said.

“The less they know, the more they (want Diallo),” Calipari said in explaing his advice not to play in five-on-five games at the Combine. “I said, just lay low. You’re going to be a lottery pick. (Shoot), you may go No. 1. Keep laying low.”

UK or NBA?

Diallo’s choices seem to be staying in the NBA Draft and trying to fulfill a long-held dream or play for Kentucky, one of college basketball’s dynasty programs.

“That’s like choosing between a blonde supermodel and a brunette supermodel,” Borman said. “Like, they’re both supermodels.”

Valuable three months?

If his UK “career” lasted only about three months, Diallo sounded like he will go away thinking it was time well spent.

“These last couple of months, I’ve been definitely working on my game,” he said. “I’ve become a different player than people have seen.”

Diallo said he’s gotten stronger, added eight pounds, learned to become more patient and become “just a different person in general.”

Borman memorably summed up what UK has done for Diallo. “I think the kid got more than three months out of three months,” the AAU coach said.

Stay or go

Tom Espinosa coached Diallo in high school. Here’s how he assessed the stay-or-go decision his former player faces.

“Test the waters, try to get some feedback, then head back to Kentucky in the fall, that’s always been the plan,” Espinosa said. “But, obviously, that all depends on the feedback.

“If he’s in the middle of the first round or better, he probably won’t go back, you know. But I know his plan has always been to test the waters and then go back to Kentucky.”

But what if late first round? “You never know,” Espinosa said. “My guess is I would say he’ll go to back to Kentucky. But who knows?”

‘Really scary’

With or without him, Diallo said that next season Kentucky will have “a really special team.”

Diallo said he was not surprised that Kevin Knox signed with UK.

“He really liked his visit,” Diallo said, “and I had a strong feeling deep inside that he was going to choose us.”

And if Mohamed Bamba signs with UK?

“If Mohamed Bamba comes to Kentucky, it’s going to be really scary for people to score,” Diallo said. “He’s definitely a great player. . . . Mohamed Bamba is probably one of the longest basketball players in the world.”

Jerry Tipton: 859-231-3227, @JerryTipton