From the moment he decided to leave his native Senegal to get an education in the United States, to the moment he set foot on American soil, Los Angeles Cathedral big man Idrissa Diallo had to wait a year and a half. For most youngsters, that kind of wait would seem interminable. The understated Diallo, though, knew it was a process he had to go through, in order for him to live a dream.
"It's a long story, to say the least," Diallo laughs. "But, it was just something that I wouldn't talk about like that (in terms of length). At the end of the day, I really wanted to come over here for a long, long time."
The primary reason Diallo came to the States was academics, though basketball was a close second.
"That's the first thing in my family: School first. I'm tall and I can run, so I knew I could use my height to play basketball," says Diallo. "My mom is not really into basketball. My dad is, but my mom is school first -- what feels comfortable, get your degree, things like that."
Diallo discovered current Cathedral coach Will Middlebrook -- then at Ribet Academy -- the same way he researches the colleges that come by, pining for his services: Through the Internet.
Growing up across the pond, Diallo says that, even now, he probably watches more soccer and NBA basketball than college hoops, and that, when college programs come calling, at times, the whole recruiting business goes right over the top of his 6-foot-11 head.
"It does, but then I go back home on the Internet and Google the team and see things about the team, see the coach, see how they play and watch a couple of videos of the team," says Diallo.
The 2014 big man prospect actually grew up playing soccer, thanks to his sportsman father, who played soccer, volleyball and basketball. Diallo's time on the pitch, he says, has vastly helped him build his trademark skills on the hardwood.
"I don't think I would be able to run the way I run right now, if I didn't play soccer," says Diallo. "You have to have good footwork, and also you've got to be able to jump, run and do stuff that normal people aren't able to do."
A love of sports wasn't the only thing Diallo got from his father, who stands at 6-foot-3, while his mother, he says, is between 5-foot-9 and 5-foot-10. The real height in his family, though, comes from his grandfather, who was also a lofty 6-foot-11.
Despite his great height, Diallo spends time playing both the four and the three. He wants to be versatile. He wants to be an impact player, and he's not shy about setting ambitious goals.
"This summer, I'm going to work a lot on my shooting, and also my dribbling, because I think I can play the four, and sometimes the three, if possible," Diallo says. "It's not a big deal. A lot of tall people play the three, like [Dirk] Nowitzki and Lebron [James]. They're pretty tall, and they can play the three."
That drive to improve is one of the many reasons why California visited him during the April open period, even after seeing him ball it up during the Los Angeles edition of the EYBL.
"They came down here and visited me, and I also talked with the UCLA coach and the new USC coach, also," Diallo says. "They like the fact that I am 6-11 and I can run. I can block shots and I can jump. They were saying that they really think they can get me better and they can work on my shooting."
Though Diallo speaks most with assistant Gregg Gottlieb, he's recently gotten to know head coach Mike Montgomery.
"We talk, and he seems to be a great coach," says Diallo. "He seems to be a great, great, great guy. He told me a lot about how he values relationship with his players, and that made me feel comfortable. That's one of the things I want to see among the colleges – a coach with whom I can feel comfortable. After we talked, I got an idea of the kind of person and the kind of coach he is, and how he treats his players."
When Montgomery last saw Diallo, he told him about how the Bears play, the style and the pace, while pitching his history of developing big men.
"He also told me about the way that they play, and it's a good fit for me. I can see myself playing for him," Diallo says. "This was the second time that I've seen him. He came here just to watch me practice, and this was the first time that we actually got to sit down and talk. Hopefully in the future, we have time to talk more and get to know each other."
What was a long story now has a possible end date: November 13, 2013 -- the first day that national letters of intent are allowed to be signed and sent in to colleges across the nation. That date is less than seven months away – far shorter than the time it took from when Diallo first decided he wanted to come to America – but, just as he was back then, Diallo is nothing if not deliberate.
"It's kind of long," Diallo says, "but you have to be kind of patient."
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