Cheick Diallo first captured our attention at the 2012 National High School Hoops festival. A sophomore, he impressed immediately as a tenacious shotblocker and overall defender.
Diallo didn’t arrive in United States until just before high school, and he’s still a novice, having started playing basketball roughly five years ago. Clearly, then, his ability to absorb the game so quickly stands testament to his talent and potential.
As a rising junior he attended the prestigious NBPA Top 100 Camp, where he arguably was the best player in attendance. He consistently outhustled and out-willed his foes, a style that always has and continues to define his game.
His recruitment blew up yet to this day lacks clarity. For one thing, Diallo didn’t grow up embedded in America’s college basketball culture, as like most international prospects he mostly connected to the NBA. That didn’t prevent schools such as Syracuse, Connecticut, Pittsburgh, Florida, Kansas, Arizona, Louisville, St. John's, Texas and Villanova from leaping into the mix, however.
Diallo certainly didn’t become complacent once he gained elite status within the Class of 2015. He continued to demonstrate an insatiable appetite for competition during his junior year, including an 18-point, 17-rebound, 10-block performance at the Hoop Hall Classic last winter.
He parlayed his 2013-14 campaign into an outstanding spring and summer on the EYBL circuit. Playing with Team Scan, Diallo racked up big numbers and continued to prove why he’s one of the nation’s best prospects.
If you wanted a brief summation, here it is: Diallo plays with the energy of an unskilled, unathletic brute, but he’s extremely athletic and also fairly skilled. Watching him for five minutes can be misleading because, despite his intensive focus on the little things, he actually bundles impressive overall ability under the layers of rugged work and competitiveness.
|All a coach must do is point Diallo in the direction of competition|
Put another way, Diallo doesn’t get sufficient credit for his all-around game due to the fact that he’s so good at other stuff. That’s not to say he’s a finished product — more on that below — but he didn’t earn a top 10 ranking on the basis of rebounding and shotblocking alone.
Diallo’s productivity owes to myriad factors. First, about that production itself: In 22 games with Team Scan this year, he averaged 16 points, 10 rebounds, three blocks and one steal per game while shooting 61 percent from the field. He’s a fantasy player’s dream, because even on nights when he’s less involved offensively, he still gets numbers.
I’ve always regarded Diallo as a short 6-9, but his 7-3 wingspan negates any controversy about his height. (For perspective, Kansas stud freshman Cliff Alexander has measured in the 7-2/7-3 range.)
He’s also tremendously quick and flexible. Forced to choose, I’d rate flexibility as his No. 1 athletic quality followed closely by his reflexes, then followed by speed and leaping ability.
Diallo combines exceptional physical gifts for offensive rebounding with indefatigable stamina, making him a constant weapon cleaning up his teammates’ misses. He’s likely to loom as a threat in that capacity for the remainder of his career.
Meanwhile, as mentioned, he’s a flexibility dynamo. Diallo can extend and contort in seemingly painful ways to snag a rebound out of his area. That capability, along with his long arms, enables him to play much taller than the average 6-9 center.
His footwork also isn’t too bad. He can set up on the block and deliver buckets via short turnarounds and the occasional dropstep or step-under move.
Defensively, he’s a superlative shotblocker who should become even more effective positionally once he gains muscle. At 210 pounds, he isn’t a lightweight now and already possesses wiry strength.
As coaches love to say, when a team’s best player doubles as its hardest worker, that attitude tends to be infectious. Diallo’s competitive drive and work ethic clearly raise the level of his entire team’s focus and energy.
Though he doesn’t lack completely for polish, Diallo’s post offense still looks haphazard. He possesses some skills but lacks identity, and thus he’s not yet a consistent go-to scorer.
He sometimes misses opportunities that are available and on other occasions forces a low percentage shot. His overall efficiency is indisputable, but that relies heavily on his energy and natural talent. Should he (likely) ascend to the NBA, the physical advantages will dissipate and he’ll have to become more dependent upon skill.
Diallo also must improve his free throw shooting. He converted on a woeful 58 percent this year for Team Scan, making him an attractive target for opponents looking to put someone on the line late in a tight game.
When you consider how briefly Diallo has played basketball and how good he is already, it’s easy to understand why he has emerged as one of the most touted prospects in the senior class.
He still has years to go before he’ll fully actualize, but that’s normal. Even as a college freshman and incomplete though he still may be, Diallo should push for a starting position and could become a stat stuffer from day one.
My belief remains that ideally he’d play two years of college before going pro, but he may be such a tantalizing athlete and competitor that he could become a one and done. In the meantime, we’ll enjoy watching him this season and at the program of his choice in 2015-16.