By LARRY VAUGHT
De’Aaron Fox is not sure how any high school player could join an elite college basketball program at midseason and be able to make an immediate impact.
“It would have been extremely difficult for me. I didn’t really struggle at the beginning, but I think in the middle of the season when everybody is starting to try to hit their peaks and you’re just coming in – you’re at the bottom of the barrel, you don’t really know what’s going on – I think it’s extremely difficult coming in midseason like that,” said the Kentucky freshman point guard.
Five-star guard Hamidou Diallo is sort of doing that now at UK. He joined the Wildcats this week and is a five-star, athletic, 6-6 wing player. However, the plan is for him to merely practice the rest of the season to prepare for the 2017-18 season.
“I don’t think you have any pressure. You’re literally just coming in to get better. You’re playing against some of the top players in the country and they have kind of a year, year and a half, and he’s got a couple people that are a lot older than him. At this point he doesn’t have anything to lose. He’s just coming in with a clear mind, and just ready to get better,” Fox said. “Even if you’re not going to play, I think that half a year here, that extra summer here, is just going to make him better.”
Kentucky coach John Calipari said there was no plan to play Diallo. He will travel with the team but will not be in uniform.
“This is great for him. He’s going to get to work out all the stuff that he needs personally. You can focus on what he needs. Then kind of shove him into this stuff, let him get a feel for it and go for it,” Calipari said.
The coach indicated there would not be a circumstance later where he could see playing Diallo this year.
“I wouldn’t do it for the program or me. The only way that would happen would be if it were in his best interest. The situation wouldn’t matter – up, down, sideways – it wouldn’t matter. It would be about him. What I know, what’s in his mind, and what I see – he needs to get squared away, get his base set, and come back and do his thing. That would be my recommendation if you ask me,” Calipari said.
Freshman center Bam Adebayo played against Diallo once in AAU play and knew him before he got to Lexington.
“He’s just getting used to it so far. We’re just showing him the ropes around here,” Adebayo said. “Lke where the classes are, food places, and basketball in general. We all help him out the best that we can, but mostly its Dom (Hawkins), Isaac (Humphries) and Isaiah (Briscoe). I haven’t seen him practice yet. This is his first practice so we’ll see how he plays.”
“It gets us all better offensively and defensively, because he’s a new pick up and he’s one of those guys that’s new to the team so it’s going to be fun figuring him out (in practice).”
Calipari expected Diallo to be a “little lost” in Friday’s practice and also a bit nervous. But he also says Diallo can put pressure on Fox, Malik Monk and Briscoe with his defense in practice.
Diallo is known as an explosive player with the ball in the open court. Calipari was not ready to endorse that perception — yet.
“Let me coach him one day and I’ll let you know. It’s so different when you’re driving against a 6-2 guy and now you’re driving against 7-footer or a guy that can put his head on the rim. It’s a little different. Your decision-making is different. He’s going to be fine. He’s a good player,” Calipari said.
Fox was a bit more complimentary. He said it was “ridiculous” how Diallo was in the open court.
“If he played now he could be one of the best players in the country in the open court. He’s so fast and athletic. I mean he’s like 6-(foot)-6 with like a 7-foot wingspan. It’s extremely difficult to stop him,” Fox said.
Is Diallo faster than him?
“No,” Fox laughed and said. “But he’s so strong and athletic. He’s just another guy to help us defensively get better. Him being able to guard us in practice will make him better. He’ll be ready for next year. Him guarding us in practice right now I think at first might be a little difficult for him just adjusting to this level, but once he gets used to it he’s going to be a heck of a player.
“Back in high school he was so strong, big and physical. More physical than everybody. He could just bully his way to the basket. He’s always been able to shoot the ball. If you’re in the way when he’s on his way to the basket you’re most likely going to get dunked on.
“He’s going to make us better and we’re going to make him better. He’s a combination of speed and power. Just something that not too many people have. At a wing spot, it’s going to help us (with) him guarding me, Malik and Isaiah , just switching off of all of us, and then us guarding him as well. It’s going to make us all better.”