John Clay

Hamidou Diallo has a happy New York homecoming in Kentucky win

It never ends well, right? A player goes back home to play in front of family and friends and bad things happen. He tries too hard. He plays uptight. Hoping to put on a show, he falls flat on his face. So goes John Calipari’s rule of thumb. Happens (almost) every time.

Tell that to Hamidou Diallo. Tell that to Kentucky’s 6-foot-5 redshirt freshman, born and raised in Queens. Tell him you can’t go back to New York, New York, step foot on the hallowed floor of Madison Square Garden and put on a big show in the Big Apple.

“This is my first time playing in The Garden,” Diallo said Saturday.

First time? He’s got to be kidding, right. The way Diallo dropped a career-high 23 points on mid-major Monmouth in Kentucky’s impressive 93-76 victory over the Hawks before 10,432 in the Citi Hoops Classic, you’d have thought the native New Yorker was a regular at these Garden parties.

“I never got to play in The Garden, so I mean coming from New York City it’s every kid’s dream to play in The Garden,” he said. “I mean you grow up watching it, going to games. So me playing in there, having a good game, it’s just a blessing.”

The same arguably could be said of his teammates, who as a group might have produced their best overall performance to date. Surely that was the case in the first half when the Cats shot 60.7 percent, made five of nine three-pointers and outrebounded Monmouth 24-14 on the way to a 54-31 lead at the intermission.

OK, the Hawks outscored the Cats 45-39 in the second half and Calipari’s club too often slipped into sloppiness, committing 19 turnovers. But, hey, as the coach likes to say, his kids are freshmen. It’s early. Give Monmouth some credit.

“You saw how they played at the end,” Calipari said of his friend King Rice’s team, which outscored Kentucky 19-8 over the game’s final four minutes.

And who could have blamed Calipari’s young guns if they spent part of the second half Garden-gazing. Fox’s Cris Carter was there. Famous Monmouth alum Karl-Anthony Towns Sr., father to a famous NBA center and ex-Wildcat of a very similar name, was there. New Yankees manager Aaron Boone was there. Former Lexingtonian and Yankees GM Brian Cashman, who attended Lexington Catholic High School, was also there to check out his old hometown team.

Gotham is Diallo’s hometown, however. Don’t you forget it. Before Thanksgiving, Diallo was asked to name his favorite Thanksgiving dish. New York City mac-and-cheese, he proclaimed proudly. How is that different than regular mac-and-cheese? It’s New York City mac-and-cheese, he said.

He’s a New Yorker, all right. A little brash, a little blunt, always straightforward. When a reporter earlier this season made the assumption Diallo bypassed the NBA Draft to show skeptics he could shoot from the perimeter, Diallo quickly corrected the record. He said he came back to show his entire game.

He showed it Saturday. First and foremost, the New Yorker is just so darn athletic. There was a play in the first half when Diallo drove down the right side, was cut off from the basket by a pair of defenders, lost control of the ball and yet somehow found a way to get it it off the glass and in the basket.

There was another play where a streaking Diallo skied for a thunderous tomahawk of a dunk that would have flat-out rocked the Garden, only to be fouled as the ball hit the back of the rim and bounced all the way to somewhere south of Jersey.

“It was just great coming out here, playing in front of a crowd that I haven’t played in front of for a long time and just seeing my family again,” said Diallo after going eight-for-13 from the floor, including 1-for-2 from three. “And we got a W, so that’s a big part of it.”

So, in the end, what did Calipari think of his you-can’t-go-home-again theory after watching his newest favorite New Yorker return and conquer?

Said the coach, “He played good.”

Hamidou Diallo game-by-game

Date

Opponent

MP

FG

FGA

3P

3PA

FT

FTA

O

D

R

PF

TP

A

TO

BS

ST

11/10/17

Utah Valley

25

8

16

2

4

0

0

2

3

5

2

18

3

1

0

0

11/12/17

Vermont

30

6

13

1

2

3

4

0

1

1

4

16

3

0

1

1

11/14/17

vsKansas

30

4

11

0

3

6

7

2

3

5

3

14

4

3

0

1

11/17/17

ETSU

27

3

7

0

1

1

2

0

4

4

2

7

0

2

1

1

11/20/17

Troy

29

3

12

0

1

2

6

3

7

10

3

8

1

2

0

1

11/22/17

Fort Wayne

28

3

7

2

3

0

0

0

4

4

4

8

3

2

0

1

11/26/17

UIC

26

8

11

0

0

3

3

1

2

3

3

19

4

3

0

1

12/2/17

Harvard

26

7

16

0

3

5

6

1

5

6

2

19

2

1

0

2

12/9/17

vsMonmouth

30

8

13

1

2

6

10

1

3

4

2

23

1

1

0

2

Kentucky basketball 2017-18

Date

Opponent

UK

Opp

Dec

Rec

SEC

11/10/17

Utah Valley

73

63

W

1-0

11/12/17

Vermont

73

69

W

2-0

11/14/17

vsKansas (chicago)

61

65

L

2-1

11/17/17

East Tennessee

78

61

W

3-1

11/20/17

Troy

70

62

W

4-1

11/22/17

Fort Wayne

86

67

W

5-1

11/26/17

UIC

107

73

W

6-1

12/2/17

Harvard

79

70

W

7-1

12/9/17

vsMonmouth (New York)

93

76

W

8-1

12/16/17

Virginia Tech

12/23/17

vsUCLA (New Orleans)

12/29/17

Louisville

12/31/17

Georgia

1/3/18

@LSU

1/6/18

@Tennessee

1/9/18

Texas A&M

1/13/18

@Vanderbilt

1/16/18

@South Carolina

1/20/18

Florida

1/23/18

Mississippi St

1/27/18

@West Virginia

1/30/18

Vanderbilt

2/3/18

@Missouri

2/6/18

Tennessee

2/10/18

@Texas A&M

2/14/18

@Auburn

2/17/18

Alabama

2/20/18

@Arkansas

2/24/18

Missouri

2/28/18

Ole Miss

3/3/18

@Florida

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