The wait ends Friday for red-shirt Rutgers freshman Ibrahima Diallo. Diallo sat out his first year at Rutgers as a partial NCAA qualifier but begins the 2015-16 season ready to play.
The 6-foot-10 big man debuts against Rutgers-Newark with an important role for the Scarlet Knights.
“It’s a dream coming true,” Diallo said. “I know people say that all the time, but it’s real. I still haven’t ever played in a college basketball game. I’m a freshman in basketball. I haven’t experienced the intensity. It’s something I’ve wanted, and now it’s here. It’s time to just do it.”
Diallo checks in as the primary backup to starter Greg Lewis in the paint.
Sophomore Shaquille Doorson is out indefinitely with a foot injury, which makes Diallo the tallest available player.
“I wouldn’t look like it as more pressure, it’s more like an opportunity,” Diallo said. “He’s still there to support me like I was there last year. Hopefully he can come back the same way I did and learn a lot from it.”
Diallo committed to head coach Eddie Jordan out of the Quality Education Academy in North Carolina, but originally hails from Dakar, Senegal. He averaged 13 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks per game in his last on-court season.
“I can be a good-energy guy for this team. Put me in, and you’re getting a player that will play as hard as he can every night,” Diallo said. “[Rutgers] recruited me for that. … I knew I could be in an environment to develop my academics and develop my basketball skills. So far so good, because everything I expected or was promised is happening.”
A year of ineligibility frustrated Diallo, but also became a learning experience for the raw big man.
“It was a hard thing, because it’s something I’ve never had to do before in basketball,” he said. “I learned a lot from it, though. When you watch from the outside, you can see through your teammates what you can do. You have a view of what the coaches expect from you when you’re out there.”
Lewis, who is a fifth-year senior and team captain, gets credit as another mentor for Diallo.
“With Greg, every day is a learning experience,” Diallo said. “He’s like that guy who knows everything. He’s been through a lot of stuff with injuries. Every spoken word from him is wise. … He was always there for me throughout the year where I had to sit. Him and Kadeem Jack from last year stood out as the people that kept my head in the game.”