Sophomore Ibrahima Diallo was more than ready when Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell called his name against Seton Hall.
An odd man out during the brunt of non-conference action, Diallo's size and athleticism earned him a consistent uptick in minutes over the last four games. Diallo expects a similar value role tonight when Rutgers returns home against Northwestern.
“I'm really excited about getting more playing time, getting a bigger role with the team,” Diallo said.
“I'm just looking forward to doing whatever it takes to contribute to the team's improvement. It's been a process that the coaches have been trying to establish. I've believed in it. I've been working hard and I just listen to what he's saying, try to get better and make the team better.”
Unfortunately for Rutgers and Diallo, the big man is occasionally “too ready.” Diallo fouled out in nine minutes at Iowa – a problem that persists from last year's games before and after a broken foot.
“It's absolutely difficult,” Diallo said. “In the heat of the moment, you try to do your best to stop people from scoring. You get involved with the refs, you have to keep your head cool. It's difficult to manage, but we've got to get better at it, too. It's difficult. We're still working on it.”
Diallo sat out his freshman season for academic reasons after he joined the program from Winston-Salem (N.C.) Quality Education Academy. He played just 14 games as a red-shirt freshman because of a broken foot.
“Clearly I didn't have enough playing time in college but I still tried to do my best to stay in the game,” Diallo said. “I work hard. I tried to stay healthy.”
Basketball comes with plenty of ego. Everyone wants to play – Diallo included. Time on the bench helped, and he kept a positive attitude throughout.
“It's a team thing,” Diallo said. “It's not always about yourself or your playing time. Your coach is going to do whatever is going to make the team win. If he thinks that the team is better off without you at that certain period of time, you just have to be a great teammate and support the team and do your best to work on your weaknesses and whatever he tries to get you to do. You just work hard to do that.”
Assistant coach Jay Young took over the coaching responsibilities for big men. Pikiell's right-hand man at Stony Brook has Diallo's confidence high.
“That dude, man, he's amazing,” he said. “You can tell he knows a lot by the way he teaches you. Every time he talks to somebody, you feel like he's a specialist in that person. He's got a lot of knowledge.”