Diallo Sticking to Plan, Learning on the Fly
Under normal circumstances, the newest Wildcats are subjects of fascination. Every venture out in public brings encounters with fans, autograph requests and plenty of stares.
Hamidou Diallo’s experience has been a unique one though.
A midyear enrollee at Kentucky, Diallo is eligible right now. It’s no surprise then that those fans, over and over, have asked him whether he will play.
“I couldn’t tell you a number,” Diallo said, asked in his first media appearance as a Wildcat how many times the question has come up.
Diallo’s go-to answer is to say he’s not sure, but that’s only for the sake of expediency. In reality, Diallo knows he has no intention of veering from his plan to spend the remainder of this season practicing with the team, adjusting to college life and getting ready for next year.
“I came in with a certain plan, so the biggest thing for me is just sticking to that plan and just preparing,” Diallo said. “This semester is just preparing me for next year, for the most part.”
That’s not to say he’s not tempted to take the floor now.
Diallo, a native of Queens, New York, does everything his new teammates do, from weightlifting to conditioning to shooting around before games to going on road trips, but he spends games on the bench. For a competitor like him, that’s not always easy.
“It’s been hard to do, but it’s a plan that I have thought about, well thought about before coming,” Diallo said. “So it’s a plan I think is best for me to stick to.”
Calipari is on the same page. Though an athlete of Diallo’s caliber would be helpful, particularly as the Cats battle backcourt rebounding issues and work to bounce back from a recent stretch of three losses in four games, Coach Cal is committed.
Besides, talented as he is, the transition Diallo is making in joining a team that’s been together for months now is a difficult one.
“He’s been here a month,” Calipari said. “You’re trying to get other guys ready for games so there are times he’s off the court. When he’s on the court, he has a spirit about him – a competitiveness about him – to go get balls. To make plays. He doesn’t play timid at all. And so, he’ll stand out in practice that way. He’s just, he doesn’t know — to play with our guys and how we’re trying to play, that’s the hard thing right now. He’s only been here a month.”
The good news, though, is that Diallo is getting that adjustment out of the way now. He’s seeing what the grind of practice is like. He’s learning the way opponents approach UK, with the next opportunity to do so coming Saturday as No. 15/12 UK (19-5, 9-2 Southeastern Conference) travels to Alabama (14-9, 7-4 SEC) for a 1 p.m. matchup.
“Coming in, Coach told me that this was going to be tough,” Diallo said. “And I’m right now I’m just witnessing it firsthand. It’s been very tough and every day, day in and day out, is just a tough battle. Teams are playing so hard against us, so I’m just seeing it firsthand. It’s a learning experience.”
Diallo might not be able to help on the floor in games just yet, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a role worth taking seriously.
“I would just say competing with them in practice,” Diallo said. “Coach just wants me to go at Malik (Monk), Isaiah (Briscoe) and De’Aaron (Fox) every day in practice and just make them better players and just try to help them and prepare them for the tasks that they’re going to have when they go out there and play against those other guys.”
The idea, for Diallo, is that by going hard at the likes of Fox, Monk and Briscoe, he’ll prepare himself to go through in less than a year what they’re going through now.
“From the first day I came until now, it’s been a big change,” Diallo said. “I’m getting the hang of things a little bit, but I’m still trying to learn everything. It’s a lot to learn in just a couple weeks, maybe a month.”