By LARRY VAUGHT
Hamidou Diallo almost left Kentucky after one semester for the NBA before deciding to stay at UK. Now he’s being counted on as UK’s most explosive — and one of its most experienced players even though he’s yet to play in a reguarl-season game — this season.
No one doubts his athleticism. He had the best numbers of any Wildcat at the preseason combine for NBA scouts.
But his outside shooting and playmaking were suspect in high school. He struggled to make outside shots playing for coach John Calipari on Team USA during the summer.
Former UK All-American Mike Pratt is now the analyst for the UK Radio Network. He watched Diallo practice and work out with the team a lot the second semester last season because even though he was being redshirted, Diallo still traveled with the team.
“The kid is a freak of an athlete. He can run and dunk. But what I am looking to see develop from watching practice all of last year, I question whether he can hit a jumper,” Pratt said. “But he can take it in transition, get putback baskets and score that way playing to his strengths.
“The other night (in an exhibition game) he tried to do too much. Made some crazy passes. He’s got to figure that out and stay within himself. I think you will hear that from Calipari early this year. Some of these guys try to do too much.”
Pratt said Diallo’s athleticism makes him unique, something that should benefit UK this season. But there are still areas he has to address to improve the way NBA personnel will be looking for.
“You are not going to find a lot better NBA guys at his size athletically but he has to develop the ability to read situations. When to take it to the rim. When to shoot it. When to pass,” Pratt said. “There is so much in learning how to play the game and utilize your athletic balance.
“Why he is still doing that he has to develop a feel for the game while still using his athletic skills. It sounds easy, but it’s not.”
Pratt still “likes” Kentucky to win the SEC but also thinks the league is “trending upward” with experienced players at many schools along with talented freshmen. He values the experience both Florida and Texas A&M have compared to Kentucky and notes that both teams have players that sat out last season that should help both teams.
“I think Auburn, Alabama and Arkansas will all be much better, too. Some like Vanderbilt, but I don’t know about that,” Pratt said. “I think the league could get five to seven teams in the NCAA. That means Kentucky could lose games on the road in league play and people will react by saying they can’t believe UK lost to that team. But Kentucky has a good chance to lose some of those games just like other teams do.”
He views UK as a top 10 preseason team but has Michigan State and Arizona 1-2 in his own poll. Duke, Villanova, Kansas and Louisville are 3-6 with UK 7th followed by Wichita State, West Virginia and North Carolina.
“I think there will be a hodge podge of good teams in college basketball this year but not a great team,” Pratt said. “It could be a surprise who makes deep runs in the NCAA. But that can make for a fun season and why for Kentucky, it’s big for a guy like Diallo to get to where he can be that guy to elevate a team with his play.”