Diakite leaping toward top of class

Some things must be seen in person to be believed. That statement cuts to the core of scouting young athletes, because much of what you read, hear and see in edited highlights can be misleading. After watching him at the South Central Challenge last weekend, Mamadi Diakite’s improvement has created an entirely new set of impressions.

When I watched Mamadi Diakite this past spring, I regarded him as a talented work in progress. He was spindly, not particularly athletic, very weak and didn’t appear to possess much in the way of an offensive identity.

But while the 6-9 forward remains skinny, the remainder of that description no longer applies. Not even a little bit.

Diakite was the best junior prospect at the SCC, easily dominating the action at times and suddenly beginning to resemble a player who might belong in the national top 35 — if not higher.

He has gained quickness but, most strikingly, registers much more highly now in terms of fluidity. He has blossomed into a legitimate combo forward who one day may be able to transition into a jumbo wing. Even if he doesn’t, he already possesses the makings of an inside-outside performer from the four position.

Diakite turned his first touch of the event last Sunday into a baseline spin and slam. He didn’t take long after that to bury a 14-foot jump shot moving to his left. He also wields a decent looking threeball, though he missed the attempts I saw him take.

He stepped it up another notch in a head-to-head versus 7-2 sophomore center Brendan Newton, a fine prospect in his own right. Diakite banged with him inside to deny position, using surprising, wiry strength to contend against a taller (albeit also quite skinny) man. On the other end he utilized his athletic advantages and ultimately threw down an emphatic slam to punctuate his performance.

And all this despite the fact that he’s been playing basketball for only three years. In fact, he still plays soccer — and credits that sport for his nimble feet — and is only beginning to strive toward his potential.

”Every day my confidence goes up, I’d say right now it’s at 90 percent,” Diakite said with laugh. “I don’t want to just play inside, I want to be a complete player.”

A native of Guinea, Diakite will compete for a loaded Dyke (Va.) Blue Ridge squad that has brought a stream of college coaches to campus this fall. Diakite said that he’s receiving interest from Texas A&M, Virginia, Maryland, Kentucky, Florida, USC and Loyola-Maryland, among others. He doesn’t yet have visits planned and intends to take his time.

His parents still reside in Guinea, and thus when they arrive to the United States — he said they may head over in January — Diakite’s recruitment could gain momentum. He certainly doesn’t need to rush anything, however, because most coaches still don’t realize how good he has become in a very short period of time.

They’ll find out soon enough.

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