Why KU freshman Cheick Diallo is neither crazy nor delusional


In the hours that followed Monday’s news that Kansas freshman Cheick Diallo was throwing his name into the NBA Draft pool — though not hiring an agent just yet — I must’ve seen and heard from hundreds of KU fans who called him crazy for even thinking he’s ready for the NBA.

The thing is, though, that’s not what Diallo is saying by declaring for the NBA Draft. What he is saying is that he’s ready to start getting ready for pro basketball.

And although that could happen if he elected to return to Kansas for his sophomore season, it would happen a lot faster if he turned pro. So that’s why he’s going to. And KU fans should probably embrace that idea ASAP so they’re not disappointed in late May when Diallo stays in the draft.

Kansas freshman Cheick Diallo walks out for pre-game warm-ups against Loyola Maryland, on Dec. 1, 2015.

Kansas freshman Cheick Diallo walks out for pre-game warm-ups against Loyola Maryland, on Dec. 1, 2015. by Nick Krug

Here’s the deal: Diallo, like so many other talented players before him and undoubtedly many more to come, chose to play at Kansas in large part because he believed KU coach Bill Self could get him ready for the NBA. If he stayed all four years, or even two or three, there’s no doubt that would happen. But it didn’t happen in one, so now Diallo has a choice to make.

If you really think about it, the choice is easy.

Staying at Kansas gives Diallo access to Self and strength coach Andrea Hudy for another season but also forces him to spend part of his time attending classes and comes with restrictions on just how often he can work with his coaches.

Turning pro eliminates the classes, strips away the restrictions and makes becoming a better basketball player Diallo’s full-time job. He can work on his game — and body — morning, noon and night, even if he’s the last man on an NBA bench or plays in the D League. And either of those, if you ask me, is the path to quicker development.

Kansas forward Cheick Diallo (13) and the Jayhawk bench celebrate a bucket and a foul by Kansas forward Landen Lucas (33) during the second half, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas forward Cheick Diallo (13) and the Jayhawk bench celebrate a bucket and a foul by Kansas forward Landen Lucas (33) during the second half, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

I don’t doubt that Diallo enjoyed his one year at Kansas, even with all the crap that came with it. He handled himself great during what can only be described as a rough season and was a good teammate, supportive of everyone in the program and, even when not playing in them, seemed to stay engaged in the games and proved to be a positive influence from the bench.

But he didn’t play much. And a big reason for that was because he never really earned Self’s trust. Although he, no doubt, would be in a better place heading into year two, there’s no guarantee that trust would ever be earned. And if it isn’t, then what? Another year on the bench? Another year wasted when it could have been spent developing the skills that might one day get him paid big bucks?

If I’m Diallo, I’m taking the path that allows me to develop my game as quickly as possible. It has nothing to do with greed or disliking Kansas or even the money, at least not today. But it has everything to do with positioning himself to set up his family for life. And the fastest way for Diallo to do that is to turn pro now.

Both ways he’d be taking a gamble. But Diallo’s a confident kid and he believes in himself. With that in mind, the gamble more worth taking is the one that, if all goes well, ends with him signing a big contract sooner rather than later.

It should be interesting to see how it all plays out for him. But don’t count on having a front row seat.

Kansas University freshman Cheick Diallo sits on the bench with assistant coach Jerrance Howard before the start of the Jayhawks' opening-round game at the Maui Invitational, against Chaminade, on Nov. 23, 2015.

Kansas University freshman Cheick Diallo sits on the bench with assistant coach Jerrance Howard before the start of the Jayhawks' opening-round game at the Maui Invitational, against Chaminade, on Nov. 23, 2015. by Nick Krug


Karen Mansfield-Stewart 6 years, 3 months ago

"...if all goes well, ends with him signing a big contract sooner rather than later."
What if everything doesn't go well? If he's drafted 36th or later, then he's out of college basketball's spotlight with no guaranteed money.

Maybe its the right decision, maybe its not. Going pro now, and hoping for the best, seems like the bigger gamble. Not having Bill Self's "trust" was what kept him off the court. You earn Self's "trust" by playing well and helping your team win; something NBA teams probably value as well.

Although often discarded as relatively unimportant in these situations, not having a college degree to leverage for a career outside of basketball is a gamble also. A good education in a field that is in demand is also a good way to take care of your family for life - but it doesn't get you on SportsCenter.

Joe Joseph 6 years, 3 months ago

The "get a degree" argument is silly.

Diallo is going to play ball and make money, whether it be in America or over seas. He doesn't need a college degree. If it means that much too HIM (Cheick -- not some randy random fan), then he'll have plenty of opportunity (and cash) to obtain that degree some other time.

Nathan Wellendorf 6 years, 3 months ago

I agree with Joe Joseph. You can get a degree anytime, I got my bachelors at 32. Diallo has his probably one shot at the NBA, he would be dumb to not take it.

Steve Zimmerman 6 years, 3 months ago

I wonder if Perry would jump in the pro had this rule applied last year. He's a valedictorian after all.

Dirk Medema 6 years, 2 months ago

There's a lot more to lose if he comes back and isn't dominant.

I remember reading an article about after 1 year, players are still seen as having potential. That diminishes consistently as times goes on, and by year 4 you are what you are.

If Diallo comes back and isn't dominant, "potential" is thrown out the window - or it is perceived.

Omari Miller 6 years, 3 months ago

You make a number of great points, Matt. I'm not sure I agree that the NBA is a better place for a big man to develop, though - especially when at the end of the bench. The NBA isn't set up for developing players and it's Developmental League really isn't. The good college coaches are great in developing players... when they're developing them for the position they'll play in the Association, that is. I think one challenge for Diallo at KU is that he was expected to play center. He's 6'9" with some ball handling skills and a mid-range game. He's not a center in the NBA... and probably not in college. To that end, and if he has to play the 5 at KU, maybe it is better for him to make the jump.

Jonathan Briles 6 years, 3 months ago

I respectfully disagree. He would have a more consistent and steady progress if he went pro right now, but it would not be as quick. Game experience is by far the fastest way to improve your abilities. If he stays he would almost certainly get a lot of experience and film of himself to study and go over with coaches. If he goes pro he will be able to practice a lot more, but I doubt he would see the same progress he would from staying. You see sophomores make huge jumps in college, but how often do you see huge jumps from deep bench nba players? Especially in one year. You also talk about signing the big deal sooner rather than later and if he stays and has a good year he could be signing a lottery pick contract a year from now instead of 3 to 5 years down the road. I'll support his decision either way because I have no say and don't know his life, but I would consider it a better idea for him to stay another year. If not then It just means more playing time for the guys who are staying and ku will be great either way. Best of luck to you Diallo.

Scott Lippoldt 6 years, 3 months ago

Matt, I so appreciate your articles and insight. Just curious, can you provide some examples of guys like Diallo who left after one year, rode the bench or played in the D League, and then went on to have successful NBA careers? I'm sure there are many examples--I'm just curious if there is any data out there that shows one way has worked better than the other. That being said, of course it always depends on the individual's unique situation...

Sae Thirtysix 6 years, 3 months ago

Matt, I suppose one of the bigger reasons that the fan reaction was so significant with the news of the CDiallo decision is that he has a really, really "likable" personality. Our beloved Jhawks have had a couple other 1&D players - CAlexander, JSelby - which were not easy to like.

Those of us who watched Cheick this year witnessed a young man who seemed to enjoy himself. Game after game he looked to be engaged from the bench. Cheering with CBragg - enjoying the program. Yet the look on his face during the B12 tournament was unmistakeable disappointment.

So it is hard to argue his decision to enter his name into the process, that LOOK on his face and lack of PT vs either the Turtles or Nova says - - He is GONE. With our best wishes, "Cheick you will always be a member of the Rock Chalk Family!!"

Barry Weiss 6 years, 3 months ago

I agree, I think Diallo may have felt he did not get the opportunity he thought he would get. Lucas came on strong, and then Diallo did not even get any minutes. I don't see him coming back unless he feels he has some shot of getting minutes. I think right now, he feels like coach will never give him any. Just an unfortunate situation. I think the kid could have been a 15 point, 10 rebound, 5 blocked shots per game Jayhawk. Sad for him and us.

Kristen Downing 6 years, 3 months ago

The only folks crazy and delusional would be the University of Kansas if they spend another dime on a player to help with his eligibility issues.

Dirk Medema 6 years, 2 months ago

Because everybody knew Diallo wouldn't be a contributor before he set foot on the court, and no future recruit would be concerned about whether the program would support a player vs. the NCAA or others.

Joseph Bullock 6 years, 3 months ago

Matt, I really like your input on Jayhawk tv, and I, much more often than not, agree with your posts, but this time I have to respectfully disagree! If Dialo hires an agent, but does not get drafted where he gets a guaranteed contract, he will have made a big mistake! Also, that would make him just like all of those players, before the new rule, who should have stayed in school, one more year, which would be the best way to help his family. But I'm not sure his family needs money. I thought his father does very well!

Jeff Smith 6 years, 3 months ago

so didn't Buddy hield get better by staying in school another year. that's just plain dumb and shortsighted that you think the only way to get better is to go pro. if so why should any player stay past 1 year. hell didn't wayne selden get better after staying an extra year. you grow by playing and getting better but you also can grow by staying in college. if you stay at a place like KU you get to travel and be treated as royalty for another year instead of riding on a bus in some no name place in texas or new mexico.

Jim Williamson 6 years, 2 months ago

Buddy Hield's also a 6-4 guard who can shoot. Those guys are a dime a dozen. Cheick Diallo is a 6-9 genetic freak who can jump out of the gym and possesses an athleticism that cannot be taught, ever, by anyone -- not even Hudy. Hield wouldn't have gotten a sniff if he'd come out last year. The NBA is all about "upside." What you can and have done rarely figures into it. And if you're a big man? You can be brutal and still get chances. Eric Chenowith to the white courtesy phone, please.

David Kemp 6 years, 3 months ago

I do wish him luck, but don't see how he gets better in nba d league. On the other hand I see him having a very difficult time cracking hawk lineup so maybe good idea.

Robert Moore 6 years, 3 months ago

Another One and Done, done. Big money at 20, bench at 25, broke at 30. It is really sad

Drew Doerfler 6 years, 3 months ago

i like diallo, but after both cliff and diallo...i wish self would stop recruiting these athletic bigs that have zero actual basketball skills.....for all the effort and money KU put into Diallo, what did they get out of it? absolutely nothing but a headache....lots of money out, nothing coming back in........give me the braggs any day of the week.....they might not be as athletic, but they can come in an contribute to the program. they actually have a clue how to play the game of basketball and not just rely upon superior athleticism...and once again, i like cheik and dont blame him for leaving, just wish self would stop recruiting these types of players

Joe Ross 6 years, 3 months ago

Sometimes people get an idea. An idea that fits with conventional wisdom. One that squares with the experts. They put faith and trust in the position they've chosen, but they happen to be wrong. It reminds me of a proverb in the Bible:

"There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death."

By virtue of Diallo's inexperience, he is lacking in several areas: knowledge, "muscle memory", and confidence. The first two might be able to be garnered in the NBA, but despite Matt's assertions, Diallo is far from confident that he can handle the NBA (and if he is he's delusional). This is the same kid who was blowing up Coach Self's phone worried about his progress. That kind of confident? He lacks the experience of many OADs who have been playing in America since they were 5, which his why Diallo felt like he was floating in space directionless. And after a season where he did not nail down the fundamentals on the court, suddenly he is confident he can handle the NBA?

Dear God. Are we still this lost? At Kansas?

What the fans want and whether we are disappointed on draft night is completely beside the point. What Kansas does not coach well is mindset. It shows in the tournament. And it echoes back from most of the players we've sent to the NBA. If these guys leave without building a confidence that they can take over a game (even if they can't) then we've failed them. It is easier to do in college because the level of competition is lower. But somehow we think that sending sending a platoon of Davids against an army of Goliaths is wise and in their best interest.

Have we not learned the lesson of Cliff Alexander? Mortgage your present for your future and put both in jeopardy? Jumping to the NBA before you're ready is doing the very same thing. Take some money now, and leave a larger amount to be thrown out the window. Buddy Hield at Oklahoma wasn't that dumb. Waiting a year has given him a bigger payout than he would have gotten had he made the jump last year. "Oh but they need to provide for their family." Attempting to do that with less money makes tons of sense.

And here's the thing. I'm pretty sure if Diallo left, we'd be in line for Thon Maker. He's visited our campus on several occasions both officially and unofficially. I think Maker might be better at Kansas as a OAD than Diallo in his 2nd years. But I dont have to be right about that to make my point; namely, that it's not about selfishly holding on to players. It's about having them leave here with the tools we can give them to be successful at the next level.

This thinking is 180 degrees away from reason. Yes. Diallo should declare. But only to gauge his stock. After that, the sensible thing to do from his perspective is to put his Kansas jersey back on like Ellis did. Like Niang did. Like Hield did. Why? To lift your stock, so you can get a better payday.

We gotta get smarter guys.

Joe Ross 6 years, 3 months ago

"There is a way that SEEMETH right unto a man..."

Rae Bricil 6 years, 3 months ago

interesting points. care to elaborate on this sentiment: "What Kansas does not coach well is mindset. It shows in the tournament. And it echoes back from most of the players we've sent to the NBA. "?

i agree with the first half and am curious what exactly you mean by the second half. i am guessing by the players that have been drafted and their respective performance in the NBA.

Joe Ross 6 years, 3 months ago

Yes, Rae. In many cases, our prospects have underperformed in the NBA. Very few have played with the kind of aggressiveness that is proportional to their talent level. Big names. Ben McLemore. Thomas Robinson. Wayne Simien.

I think we have a cultural problem at Kansas. I dont mean the fact that we try to maintain a clean program. Thats admirable. But at some level we dont seem to be as aggressive in doing everything we can (inside the rules) to get recruits here. I mean we're not innovative in our strategy. I also think this idea of "being loose" on gameday is a double-edged sword that cuts sharper on the side that sees us not being as focused as we should be, as aggressive as we should be, playing with a sense of urgency, or taking opponents as seriously as we should. None of those things are implied by the worse "loose". When players are cultured that way, it's hard not to carry that demeanor with you after college. People are products of experience. There may be something to say for recruiting personalities as well. I like the grit of a Brannen Greene. If you recruit guys with the talent level of a Perry Ellis, but mix in the personality of! That's the kind of player who is really going to impact the program at this level, and has the best chance of acquitting himself well when he gets to the pros.

It's only my opinion. Im not saying its right. But I think there's something to it.

Dirk Medema 6 years, 2 months ago

"I'm pretty sure if Diallo left, we'd be in line for Thon Maker."

I've also thought this as well as - I'm pretty sure if Wayne left, we'd be in line for Josh Jackson.

We're just too congested otherwise.

Aaron Paisley 6 years, 3 months ago

There are skills that better to develop in college and skills better to develop in the NBA.

Diallo is a kid who still doesn't have the basic fundamentals of proper footwork down. NBA guys don't have time for teaching a kid how to play basketball. College coaches do though because that's their job.

If a player has the foundation to build on, but is missing something like muscle, that's something that comes with age and physical maturity and would happen in college or the NBA and therefore would make the NBA the ideal choice.

Cheick Diallo is a kid who doesn't even have a foundation to build on yet. He needs an invite because those 20 hours/week he'll get with Self will be more time Self can work on basic fundamentals with Diallo. Ideally Diallo hears that because he's so raw, it would be in his best interest to return to KU next year and Self and staff can continue to mold Diallo and he can be a lottery pick in 2017 when he has some foundational stuff to build on in the NBA.

Steve Zimmerman 6 years, 3 months ago

Matt, the problem here is, how ready is Diallo? Who's going to 'gamble' on a kid who just started playing 5 years ago? Like others already mentioned, this kid lacks fundamental. But you're right though, what if he passes the draft combine, it's a no brainer. If he doesn't pass, nobody picks him up, and sadly if he still doesn't trust Self's system, he won't develop much next year either. Yikes.

Joe Ross 6 years, 2 months ago

The question is who takes care of the kids who get drafted and flame out (dont progress)? Diallo has risk factors for being that kind of player. Little experience and little confidence to be exact. Its true with a lot of players (which is a major reason I support a 2AD/higher age limit mandate), but magnified in the case of Diallo. Im just sick at the thought that there are people who think its in his best interest to go. Just sick.

The NBA doesnt have much to lose if any particular kid doesnt make it. There's always a class of guys coming up behind them. So why not take a greenstick? If he makes it, fine. If he doesnt, step aside and let someone else through. In that kind of situation, the best thing to do is to get a big first contract, and Diallo could do it.

But not if hes getting the kind of advice that appears in this article.

Mallory Briggans 6 years, 2 months ago

Trust that why Diallo isn't playing .....Trust is that why Svi wasn't playing ....Trust is that why Bragg...and Greene didn't play . Early in the season the talk was why was Lucas on the floor , but Self inserted him in the starting line up ...and look at the results . A player like Diallo was highly touted and projected to be a OAD player. He was the MVP at the Mcdonalds all American game ....followed up by the MVP of the Jordan Brand all-star game...but then he gets to Kansas and he cant play ...he s raw ....his fundementals are lacking .....True college is not high school and a coaches job is to make a player reach his potential , but I have yet to see a player get better sitting on the bench .Diallo has so much untapped potential that Self kept bottled up ....Only Coach Self knows why

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