The anticipation and hype surrounding freshman sensation Cheick Diallo began on April 28 when Kansas coach Bill Self signed his coveted big man.
"Today is a huge day for our Kansas basketball program," Self said. "It has been our focus and our top recruiting priority to try to sign an inside presence and a rim protector to go along with our returning players. We feel like we've been able to sign a premier big man that has as much upside as any big we've recruited in recent memory. Cheick reminds me so much of Thomas Robinson, late in Thomas' college career. Cheick has a great motor. He runs as well as any big guy that we've had and certainly has a knack for finding the ball. He'll bring a toughness and aggressiveness to our program.”
While Self looked forward to Diallo making an indelible impact this season, the NCAA was certainly in no rush to grant him eligible. With the NCAA conducting a lengthy investigation into his coursework at Our Savior New American High School in Centereach, New York, the wait for Diallo to don a KU uniform lasted longer than anybody ever expected.
But on Tuesday night at 7 in Allen Fieldhouse against Loyola Maryland, Jayhawk fans can finally see this humble and bright Mali native (he speaks four languages) in action after being suspended by the NCAA for the first five games for accepting a small amount of extra benefits.
That NCAA ruling came out on Nov. 25, when Diallo had already been out four contests and would next miss the championship game of the Maui Invitational that same day against Vanderbilt.
While Self was glad Diallo became cleared, he was not happy with the NCAA.
“I don't feel like anything that was done with the NCAA was done in the best interest of the student athlete at all,” Self said at his press conference Monday.
Now, with the investigation finally over, the 6-foot-9, five-star recruit who was MVP of the 2015 McDonald’s All-American Game and Jordan Brand Classic is ready to play the game he loves.
“I’m so excited,” Diallo said Monday afternoon in Allen Fieldhouse. “I can’t wait for tomorrow. That’s my first game in college, so I have to be so excited. I got to bring everything I got. I want to bring everything to make my team win.”
Self said he will bring Diallo off the bench.
“We'll put him in and play the game just like we normally would. But it would be great to have him get ample minutes and have a chance to play through some mistakes like everybody else has had a chance to. He hasn't,” Self said.
“I think he'll try real hard,” the KU coach added of the player some scouts compare to Denver Nuggets’ relentless power forward Kenneth Faried.
“I think he'll be nervous. I think -- he says he probably will be able to handle the situation, but I think our crowd is going to go nuts whenever he's first checking in the game. ... Cheick is going be a really good player. He's going be terrific, but he's very, very raw, and he's just starting to figure it out. But he'll do fine. He'll be active and energetic, and somewhat confused, maybe, from time to time, because he'll be so excited.”
With such a long wait of being in NCAA limbo for several months, Diallo admits he was “so frustrated” before the ruling became official.
“But God has a plan for me, so sometimes I just want to let it go because you’re not going to control everything,” he said. “You just got to let some things go.”
He was so hyped after being freed that he couldn’t sleep in Hawaii that night.
“I was up all night,” Diallo said. “I’m thinking, ‘Wow, I’m going to play this year.’ It’s kind of like I’m dreaming you know.”
His hoops dreams will become reality Tuesday night, where he can now control his destiny on the court and showcase his tremendous talent.
“Right now, rebound, block shots, run the floor, dunk on people,” Diallo said about what he does best. “And before, I used to do a lot of post moves. But now, I’m improving my jump shot and free throws. Of course, I have to score, but I just got to make my team good. Not like, ‘Oh, Cheick, make 40 points, Cheick, make 20 points.’ No, I’m gong to going to do that. I just want to (help) my team win every single game.”
Diallo, whose favorite NBA player is Los Angeles Clippers’ star Blake Griffin, was asked by a reporter if he can “keep up” with KU’s up-tempo offense.
“Of course, I love running,” he said with a big smile. “That’s what I’ve been doing my whole life. I just like to run, (get out on the) fast break, or catch a rebound and be the first to the other side.”
Diallo is definitely planning on bringing his non-stop motor to the Phog against Loyola, where he’ll enjoy and embrace the loudest atmosphere of his life.
“Wow, that’s going to be crazy,” Diallo said. “Tomorrow, it’s going to be crazy because a lot of people are coming to support me. A lot of friends here, they’ll tweet me, ‘Oh Cheick, we can’t wait.’ A lot of people text me, ‘We can’t wait for tomorrow.’”
Self certainly knows why fans are so thrilled to finally see Diallo play, despite being so raw offensively.
“He can dominate a game and score six points. He's one of those guys,” Self said. “He can score six points, get eight rebounds, block four shots and totally change the complexion of the game. And people may look at it like he didn't do much. No, that's what he does. So, I'm real excited for him. I'm excited for us but more so for him just to see what he can do when he gets out there.”