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Hamidou Diallo isn’t showing up for the spring semester at UConn.
The good news for UConn fans is their existing basketball team evidently is.
On a weekend when UConn lost out on one of its highest recruited targets ever, the Huskies turned in their most complete performance of the season with a 64 49 rout of Central Florida Sunday at the XL Center.
There was strong ball movement. The Huskies, who entered on a four game losing streak in which they shot under 37 percent, hit 47.4 percent against one of the top defensive teams in the nation. Amida Brimah and the Huskies negated 7 6 Tacko Fall and held a UCF team that had won five in a row and 12 of 15 overall to 33.3 percent shooting.
It has taken too long, far too long by the high standards set by their predecessors. But UConn emerged from the rubble of the shattered season and looked regenerated Sunday, looked like a UConn team again.
Moving the ball around with confidence and conviction, shooting with body language that exuded.
Rodney Purvis, who has struggled mightily throughout the season with his shot, found his three point stroke early and finished with 17 points.
The Huskies, playing uninspired on some nights and short handed because of injury every night, are 6 9 overall and 1 3 in the American Athletic Conference. One inspired victory does not call for handstands and hallelujahs, of course, and at this point UConn’s NCAA hope hinges on winning the AAC Tournament at the XL Center in March.
Yet it also would be a mistake to believe Diallo, the electric five star recruit from Putnam Science Academy who announced on Saturday that he is enrolling immediately at Kentucky, would have saved UConn’s season. He wouldn’t have.
John Calipari is the kingpin of using one and done players to his advantage. Once he locked into what UConn was trying to do, he sold the same path and was nearly impossible to beat. Bring in Diallo at midseason at Kentucky, develop him and let him loose on the college world next season?
Welcome to Lexington, Mr. Diallo.
Nobody put in any more work than UConn associate head coach Glen Miller did on recruiting Diallo. Years of it. Kevin Ollie coached Diallo with the USA Basketball U 18 team. These guys have been out to see Diallo play more than anyone. Ollie said he still couldn’t comment on Diallo, but, of f course, there has to be a level of disappointment.
“Hamidou told me he is redshirting and the reason why is he doesn’t want to start right away at Kentucky and not be ready for college basketball which he is not and he knows,” Putnam Science Academy coach Tom Espinosa said Saturday night. “Learning all the plays, etc., he doesn’t feel like he’s ready. And, honestly, I think he feels it would hurt his NBA stock, not being prepared, not looking good, not playing well.”
There have been so many projected scenarios for Diallo, a shooting guard. He’s eligible for the NBA draft this year and, no matter what is said or written here, there are some who prefer to believe he still could go that way this spring.
“Obviously a lot of things can change,” Espinosa said,
“but his plan is to go to Kentucky next week, finish out the spring semester, stay up there in the summer, take classes, work out, go to school and play 2017 18 and enter the 2018 NBA draft.”
The most immediate question, even more immediate than his draft status, is where does Diallo’s game stand right now? What does he most have to work on?
“Consistently making shots,” Espinosa said. “His strength is when the game is up and down in the open court. When you get in the half court, slow the game down, that’s when Hamidou struggles. With us, A. he’d take bad shots. B. he’d miss a lot of shots.
“It’s also maturity on the court. People ask me what are you going to do without Hamidou? We’ve been playing without Hamidou for the last two years. He has been in my doghouse at times. Discipline issues, he hasn’t played. He has been in foul trouble a lot, missed half the game. We’re used to playing without him. We are going to be fine.”
Espinosa pointed to a key moment in a Final Four game at the national prep championships last season.
“A guy caught the ball in the high post, Hamidou was closing him out, in a stance, and then he just reached,
” Espinosa said. “He got called for his fifth foul with three minutes to go. If he was mentally tougher, more mature, he’d close him out contain him.”
I trust and respect Espinosa. Trust him and respect enough to send my own son to play for the second team at his Putnam Science program. He gives it straight. His coaches run a tight ship.
“Hamidou is a freak athlete,” Espinosa said. “Gifts God gave him, not many people have. But at the same time, there’s a lot of guys who are 6 5, 6 6 who are athletic who can’t shoot. He has got to separate himself. He has taken too many days off, especially this fall with us, not getting better. He has so many tools, but he has to get so much better, work harder every day and be mentally tougher.”
Diallo’s thinking evidently is he’ll work out diligently at Kentucky and practice with elite college talent to improve. Yet at this point in the season, with so many games filling the schedule, how hard can a team go at it in practice through March?
“I told him the bottom line is how you perform on the court at Kentucky [in games],” Espinosa said. “That’s when you get evaluated. They’re going to be competing for a national championship. They’re going to be busy playing. So he has got to want to do it himself.
“He’s passing up 25 games with us to ‘work on his game.’ That was my big argument. We do skill work during the day. Our gym is open all the time. To be honest with you, we were disappointed with him in that regard. He told us he didn’t want to lift during the season, because it would mess up his shot. He wasn’t in the gym enough.”
Espinosa said this wasn’t from Diallo but from some others. To be honest, I’ve heard some of the same things from sources.