Late last month, Bill Self said he didn’t expect to hear anything conclusive from the NCAA Eligibility Center about prize recruit Cheick Diallo’s eligibility for the upcoming season until mid-September, “at the earliest.”
So it’s too early to panic, but not premature to wonder what Kansas University’s experienced basketball team might look like with and without the 6-foot-9, 220-pound freshman from Kayes, Mali, Africa.
Diallo used relentless effort to earn Most Outstanding Player honors in the McDonald’s All-American game and was his team’s MVP at the Jordan Brand Classic.
Clearly, he knows how to blend with other talented players. In his case, he plays off of his teammates in ways that make them better, instead of becoming the focal point and forcing teammates to sacrifice for him. That fits this Kansas roster well. The Jayhawks already have serious scoring threats at the point (junior Frank Mason) on the wing (junior Wayne Selden) and in the post (senior Perry Ellis).
Diallo won’t need teammates to feed him. He’ll get it himself when they miss shots. They won’t need to urge him to keep up with them in transition. Instead, they’ll remember to push themselves to keep up with him.
Self isn’t given to hyperbolic quotes about his recruits, which made it so powerful when he said, “He can create pace better than any point guard we’ve ever had here, just because the dude from rim to rim is as good as I’ve seen.”
Self is famous for having a deep pool of big men who can run the court, beat the enemy back on defense so that the guards don’t have to protect the post and can stay on the perimeter to prevent transition three-pointers. For him to say Diallo’s the fastest of the lot packs a mean punch.
With Diallo on the roster, Kansas can use a three-headed monster at center, with shot-blocker Hunter Mickelson and prolific rebounder Landen Lucas lending depth. Ellis and freshman Carlton Bragg, a potentially lethal scorer from mid and long range, have the 40 minutes at the four more than covered.
In the event Diallo is declared eligible, Kansas immediately becomes a favorite to land one of the four No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament.
If Diallo isn’t allowed to play, Kansas has the option of filling some of those minutes by playing Bragg and Ellis together, an outstanding scoring combination, but the roster doesn’t have quite the same intensity and looks more like a No. 2 seed.
– Tom Keegan can be seen on The Drive, Sunday nights on WIBW.