They say that when talent and effort meet opportunity, success results, and for Cheick Diallo that's absolutely the case. But watching him on the court, sometimes he succeeds even when opportunity doesn't actually enter the picture.
Diallo, whose first name is pronounced "Sheck," is the type of player who instigates and agitates. If there's a seemingly routine defensive rebound for an opponent, he creates a scrum and uglies up what ordinarily would be an uncontested play. If his team commits an open court turnover leading to an expected breakaway dunk, Diallo unexpectedly races after the player to block his shot to deliver a hard foul.
You could say he's a throwback player. Though not ideally tall for center at only 6-9 and not really a face-up guy, either, Diallo auditions less for skill accolades and more for respect. He's always ready to go out on his shield, and that relentless attitude makes him one of the most productive players in the Class of 2015.
Effort alone doesn't account for his prowess, of course. He's very quick off the floor and possesses superb timing for blocks and rebounds. He seems to be a step ahead of shot-takers and frequently gives them a bit more to think about after he smashes an attempt out of bounds. Meanwhile, he uses his angular, balanced frame to knife between foes trying to block him out, and as such he's one of the most persistent offensive rebounders in the country.
He has improved his scoring tools as well. Diallo can hit an open jump shot from 8-12 feet, and though that isn't his calling card the versatility makes him more than just a grunt. He's relatively new to basketball and that does show at times, as his court awareness and positioning lag that of some other elites, but his progress has been rapid and his desire to be a good player so evident that he has made the overall package work.
As for recruiting, the Mali native is taking his time. Many have predicted that the Centereach (N.Y.) Our Savior product will remain in the Northeast, and certainly St. John's would love to have him follow in the footsteps of former Our Savior star and current shotblocker supreme Chris Obekpa.
Diallo isn't a native English speaker and as such doesn't have the same personal relationships with college coaches that many other players enjoy. That being the case, then, most everyone is only guessing as to where he'll spend his college years.
This season, Diallo has continued to gain ground. At the National Hoops Festival last month, he displayed greater offensive variety in the form of turnaround jump shots and short jumphooks. He's hardly a refined scoring machine, but his improvement speaks to both his talent and work ethic.
Long-term, he'll need those skills in order to thrive at the professional level. His workrate, athleticism and timing already stand as significant assets in his corner, however, and he's made clear strides on the rest.