LEXINGTON — A year ago, Hamidou Diallo nearly left the University of Kentucky for the NBA. This time it’s for real.
The 6-foot-5 freshman guard announced his plans to enter the NBA Draft and hire an agent Monday, ending his collegiate career with the Wildcats.
“A year ago I tested the waters to get some feedback and then make the best possible decision for my career,” he said. “I chose to come back and I’m so happy I did. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Nothing made me prouder than to put that Kentucky name across my chest.”
Diallo is the fourth Kentucky underclassman to declare for the draft and the third to leave with the intention of not returning. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Kevin Knox also plan to hire an agent before the draft, set for June 21 at the Barclays Center in New York.
PJ Washington also has declared for the draft but hasn’t retained an agent, leaving the door open for a possible return next season.
Last year, Diallo worked out with several NBA teams before opting to return to Kentucky and said his first season with the Wildcats wasn’t an easy one.
“Coach (John Calipari) told me it would be the hardest thing I would ever have to do and it was,” Diallo said. “But, I grew up and became a man this year on and off the court. I know I’ve only scratched the surface with my game, but I’m now prepared to do it because of the work I’ve put in at Kentucky and the support of everyone at this university.”
Calipari was heavily involved in Diallo’s decision-making process last season and praised Diallo’s contributions this past season.
“I remember going through this process with Hami,” he said. “In both cases, our conversations were about what was best for Hami. Last year he wanted to come back to put on that Kentucky jersey in a game for the first time, compete for a championship and improve his game. He did all three this season.”
Diallo averaged 10 points and 3.6 rebounds per game last season and started all 37 games. He scored double figures 16 times and tallied more than 20 points in three games. He scored 22 points and had eight rebounds against Buffalo in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Diallo was named Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Week after scoring 20 points and knocking down four 3-pointers in a win over Virginia Tech. Diallo finished fourth on the team in scoring (371), six in rebounds (135) and was third in blocked shots with 31. He scored 14 or more points in the Wildcats’ first three games, including 14 in a loss to NCAA Final Four participant Kansas.
“Hami got better in all areas of his game,” Diallo said. “True growth happens when you get knocked down to the point of questioning yourself. We already knew how talented of a player Hami was physically and athletically, but we all learned about Hami’s toughness, his character and his desire to win. I am so proud of his growth from beginning to end. He’s prepared to succeed and will succeed. He’s the best athlete in the draft who’s continued to improve his shooting. He’s only touched his true talent. I wish I had the opportunity to coach him another year but I understand and support his decision.”
Diallo praised the coaching staff for pushing his limits on and off the court.
“(They were) honest with me from the start and always had my back,” he said. “I can’t thank you enough. To my teammates, you guys are my brothers. You picked me up this season and helped me build my confidence when I needed it.”