Kentucky Basketball: Hamidou Diallo using Team USA camp as another opportunity to lead young Wildcats


  • About: 2 months ago
Kentucky Basketball: Hamidou Diallo using Team USA camp as another opportunity to lead young Wildcats - World News

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — P.J. Washington was thinking the same thing most Kentucky fans were as the midnight deadline to withdraw from the 2017 NBA Draft approached on May 24 and Hamidou Diallo still hadn’t made an announcement.

“I thought he was going into the draft after he did his vertical,” said Washington, noting Diallo’s jaw-dropping 44 ½-inch vertical leap at the NBA Combine. “I had no idea.”

But in the final few minutes before time ran out, Diallo informed his Kentucky teammates, coaches and fans that he was coming back to school. After enrolling in January and redshirting the second half of last season, the 6-foot-5 shooting guard will make his debut in blue this fall and plans to make a major, instant impact.

RELATED: Live updates all week on Calipari, Cats at USA camp

Coach John Calipari “has told me multiple times I have to be the leader,” Diallo told SEC Country on Sunday. “For our team to be successful, that’s what’s going to have to happen. I’m just going to have to show these guys the (ropes) and show them that you’ve got to work every day and we’ve just got to be together as one — that everyone’s individual goals will happen if we’ll just be one.”

That makes the next week, if not the next month, huge for the Wildcats. Diallo, Washington and fellow UK freshman Kevin Knox are here in Colorado Springs trying out for USA Basketball’s under-19 World Cup team that happens to be coached by Calipari. Sunday was Day 1 of training camp and Diallo wasted no time flashing his freakish athleticism.

Oh, hello, Hamidou.

— Kyle Tucker (@KyleTucker_SEC) June 19, 2017

“He’s really improved himself,” Calipari said. “He was a little sloppy today — and most of these kids were — but I just wanted to see conditioning. Like I told them, ‘If you’re not in shape, you’re not making this team, because we don’t have time to get you in shape.’ ”

That won’t be a problem for Diallo and Knox, who looked like two of the most finely tuned athletes among the 27 trying out at the U.S. Olympic Training Center. But Diallo wants to be much more than a high-flying highlight reel.

It’s no secret that NBA teams’ biggest concern was his jump shot, and it looked sharper during drills Sunday — if not in the live scrimmaging situations.

“I’m just getting better in each and every way,” he said. “My game is just at a different level. My handle’s gotten tighter, I’ve gotten stronger, I’ve gotten faster and my jump shot has gotten way better.”

Hamidou Diallo's work-in-progress jumper.

— Kyle Tucker (@KyleTucker_SEC) June 19, 2017

The three Wildcats are rooming together in a dorm here at Team USA camp — Knox and Washington are roommates back at school, too — and say there is already a deep bond forming among the key pieces of this year’s Kentucky squad. After eight of the top nine scorers from last season’s team departed, Diallo sees himself as one of the old heads who can help explain what to expect from Calipari.

“I told them it’s no easy days,” Diallo said. “You gotta bring 100 percent effort, 100 percent energy, and get after it. Those guys have been doing just that every time we’ve been in the gym.”

Added Washington: “He’s going to do great leading us. If we listen to him and Cal, we’ll be great.”

Especially if the three Cats make Calipari’s Team USA roster and get to spend the next three-plus weeks together with their coach, playing for a gold medal in Egypt. That’s not quite a foreign team trip that college programs get to take every four years, but it would be a huge head start for UK’s nucleus.

“Just basically getting a little season under our belt with each other,” Diallo said. “Just playing with each other, knowing each other. The biggest thing is getting comfortable with each other. It’s great. We’re in the gym together all the time, trying to find our chemistry and run with it.

“We’re just competing and trying to get each other better every day. That’s our ultimate goal for the summer.”

And to think, Diallo almost wasn’t a part of it.

“I’m just glad,” he said Sunday, “that I made the best decision.”

The post Kentucky Basketball: Hamidou Diallo using Team USA camp as another opportunity to lead young Wildcats appeared first on SEC Country.

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