Cheick Diallo had his TV tuned into the Bulls-Cavaliers NBA playoff game as he conducted a phone interview with the Journal-World on Monday night from Centereach, New York.
The recent Kansas University signee — who first started playing basketball in the winter of 2010 in his home country of Mali — said he enjoys immersing himself in the games of current players such as Monday night’s playoff stars LeBron James, Derrick Rose and Pau Gasol — as well as his favorite player, Blake Griffin of the Clippers, and some past greats.
“I like to go to YouTube and watch those that have played — (Michael) Jordan, Kobe (Bryant), (Hakeem) Olajuwan, (Tim) Duncan,” Diallo said.
Analysts believe the 6-foot-9, 220-pound senior from Our Savior New American High has the potential to make his own impact on the college and pro games. Diallo enters college as Rivals.com’s No. 5-rated player in the recruiting Class of 2015.
He was best of all blue-chippers in the month of April, earning MVP honors at both the McDonald’s All-America Game and Jordan Brand Classic and scoring 12 points in the Nike Hoop Summit.
“It means a lot to me,” Diallo said of being tapped MVP after erupting for 18 points and 10 rebounds at McDonald’s in Chicago and 26 points and 11 boards at Jordan Brand in New York “It’s a big honor to me because a lot of players cannot do that. I was proud of myself to get MVP of McDonald’s and Jordan Brand. I give credit to my teammates. There were a lot of great players in those games. They helped get me easy buckets.”
Diallo — he averaged 17.6 points and 10.5 rebounds his senior year of high school — certainly put in the effort to claim MVP in those all-star contests.
He seemed to out-run everybody, even the guards.
“That is natural. I used to play soccer when I was younger. I think that helps my speed and footwork. I don’t seem to get tired. I don’t know why,” Diallo said. “I definitely think it can definitely help me (in college),” he added of his ability to run the floor.
Diallo, who is known as a good shot blocker and offensive rebounder — “he treats missed shots of others as a pass to himself,” ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla says — thinks he’ll fit right in playing for coach Bill Self at KU.
“I chose Kansas because I like coach (Self). I see a lot of players go to the NBA. Coach helps a lot of players, a lot of big men,” he said.
And where does Diallo’s game need help?
“My weakness was my free throw (shooting) and jump shot, but not really. I think I’ve improved from the free-throw line and shooting. I need to work on post moves, everything,” he said.
Former KU big man Joel Embiid told him he chose the right school to hone his big-man skills.
“I talk to him a lot,” Diallo said of the No. 3 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft who played a year at KU. “He tells me a lot of things. He said they help the big men. (You learn) a lot of post moves and post-up game. There’s a lot of big-man development.”
Diallo, who visited KU in September, cited other factors in choosing Kansas over St. John’s, Kentucky, Iowa State and Pitt.
“I like the players, and the campus was beautiful,” said Diallo, who has maintained a friendship with Wayne Selden Jr. and Frank Mason III via text. “There were nice people there. Everything was good.”
Diallo said he “would like to” remain on campus more than one year and isn’t thinking about the pros right now. His graduation date is set for mid June, thus he isn’t sure yet when he’ll arrive in Lawrence to begin working out with the Jayhawks.
“I’m really excited about getting there and about college,” Diallo said.
He said he appreciated all the KU fan support on social media after he announced for KU on April 28.
“They were going crazy,” he said of KU fans. “You can’t make everybody happy. Kansas fans were happy, but those other schools (fans) were mad.
“That’s the way it’s supposed to be,” Diallo added.