Type “Hamidou Diallo” into the Twitter search bar and you might think he’s the inspiration for the next Marvel superhero flick.
Words like “freak” and “monster” have become synonymous with the 19-year-old kid from Queens, New York:
So, who is Hamidou Diallo? He’s a redshirt freshman guard at the University of Kentucky. A five-star recruit coming out of high school, Diallo actually enrolled at Kentucky during the middle of the 2016-2017 season. The idea was that by enrolling early, Diallo could practice and train with the Wildcats while also becoming eligible for the 2017 NBA Draft. It sounds crazy for a dude to enter the NBA Draft without playing in a single college game, but Hamidou Diallo isn’t just some dude. We’re talking about a a genetic outlier who was doing stuff like this in 10th grade:
Believe it or not, Diallo was once projected to be a top-20 pick in last year’s loaded draft class. Not only did he have the pedigree of a five-star recruit, but Diallo also absolutely destroyed the 2017 NBA Combine. Rules allow for players to participate in the combine before subsequently returning to school, and Hami’s performance was breathtaking. His numbers included a 3.11 Three Quarter Sprint (third-best among 2017 Combine participants) and a 2.79 Shuttle Run (second-best among 2017 Combine participants. But it was his Max Vertical Jump that really wowed pro personnel, as Hami’s 44.5-inch leap was the second-highest in NBA Combine history:
Diallo’s measurements also screamed potential superstar. In a sport filled with giants, a large wingspan can be an extremely valuable asset. While Diallo’s height measured in at 6-foot-5, his wingspan was nearly 7 feet. That’s extraordinary for a guard. Diallo has the same wingspan as Atlanta Hawks rookie John Collins, despite the fact Collins is nearly 5 inches taller. So in Diallo, you have a guard with awesome speed, mind-blowing vertical explosiveness and the wingspan of a power forward. That’s how you become a potential first-round pick without ever appearing in a college game.
But lucky for the UK faithful, Diallo elected to return to Kentucky for his redshirt freshman season. That means that Big Blue Nation will actually get the chance to see him play. So, what should we realistically expect from a player who’s already received so much hype?
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Robert Harris, head strength and conditioning coach for UK Men’s Basketball, recalls being instantly impressed with Diallo when he first arrived on campus. Prior to Harris creating a training program for an incoming player, he runs them through a test called the Functional Movement Screening (FMS). Invented by physical therapist Gray Cook, the FMS helps “determine the greatest areas of movement deficiency” in an athlete. Diallo performed remarkably well in the FMS, which isn’t always the case for young basketball players.
“(I realized) Hami was a special athlete the very first day. Putting him through different mobility exercises and seeing how well he performed them—I knew he was going to be special and do things athletically that most (players) wouldn’t be able to,” Harris told STACK.
But Harris also saw a player who needed to gain muscle mass and strength if he wanted to be effective against college basketball’s premier players. After spending nearly 10 months in Kentucky’s training program, the results are evident. “His biggest improvement has been increased upper-body strength. (That’s shown) with how he finishes through contact at the rim,” Harris says.
We’ve seen a number of freakishly athletic players fizzle out before reaching their full potential due to a lackluster work ethic. According to Harris, that shouldn’t be a worry with Diallo. “Hami is a lead by example person. His work ethic separates him from others and (he has) that ‘never complain, just work attitude’ that spreads to (his teammates),” Harris says.
With his otherworldly athleticism and infinite length, Diallo has a good chance to be a lockdown defender for the Wildcats this season. Former UK star De’Aaron Fox, now a rookie with the Sacramento Kings and undoubtedly one of the fastest players in the NBA, said that Diallo’s smothering defense often made practices at Kentucky more exhausting than the games. “He’s a great defender,” Fox told SECCountry.com. “When he was defending us—like when people ask me what was harder, the practices or games, practices for me were a lot tougher than games.”
Diallo’s offensive game isn’t quite as developed. He struggled with his jumper at times during AAU ball, and it remains a concern to this day. But Diallo’s athleticism and length can make him a nightmare when it comes to attacking the rim. UK head coach John Calipari is known for helping UK players develop a playing style that makes the most of their athletic gifts. He did it for Fox, and now he’s trying to do it for Diallo. After Diallo posted 23 points in an exhibition win over Morehead State, Calipari expressed some disappointment in his shot selection.
“Hami shot 3s, and I took him out,” Calipari told Kentucky.com. “From that point on he drove the ball. He drove, he drove, he drove and then he got one 3 late in the game. That’s who he is. He will play that way, folks, and I love him to death, or he won’t play. But he will play that way.” If anyone can get the most out of Diallo’s unique skill set, it’s coach Cal.
Photo Credit: @KentuckyMBB on Instagram