Hamidou Diallo is coming back to Kentucky.
Diallo, a freshman guard, plans to return to UK for the 2017-18 season after going through the process of declaring for the NBA Draft. Utilizing NCAA rules that allow players to “test the waters,” Diallo entered the NBA Draft without hiring an agent to protect his NCAA eligibility with the option of returning to school.
Players had until 10 days after the conclusion of the NBA Draft Combine to make a final decision based on a rule between the NCAA and NBA so long as the player didn’t hire an agent. That deadline was Wednesday at 11:59 p.m. ET.
With only minutes to spare, Diallo informed UK of his intention to come back to school. He will join Wenyen Gabriel, Sacha Killeya-Jones, Tai Wynyard, Brad Calipari, Jonny David and Dillon Pulliam as 2017-18 returners.
“First of all, I want to thank the Big Blue Nation for your support,” Diallo said. “I've only been a Wildcat for five months, but you have already made me one of your own. I know not everyone understood my original decision -- but everyone has been supportive. Thank you for that.
“The one thing I've learned through this whole process is how grateful I am that I came to the University of Kentucky. Coach Cal and the staff have had my back throughout this entire journey. They were honest with me from the start, had my best interests at heart and walked me through every step. I couldn't have asked for a better support system.
“I also want to thank the university for understanding how important this decision was to me. This is something I had to do for me and my family, and the school has been supportive of us the whole way. Just so everyone knows, I always planned to pay the school back for my spring tuition for allowing me to enroll last semester because I never thought I would be in this position. If I knew I was leaving after the semester, I would have played to help the team.
“Like I said when I submitted my name for the draft, playing in the NBA has always been my ultimate goal. When I enrolled in school in January, my plan was to come to Kentucky to work on my game and to focus on academics. At the end of the season, I knew I wanted to see where I was in the draft process so I could get a proper evaluation.
“That plan still hasn't changed. I hope to play in the NBA one day -- just not this season. Based on the information I received by testing the waters, I believe it's in my best interests to return to school. Although I was a part of the team last season and trained with my teammates, I never fulfilled another one of my dreams, which was to play for a major college program and win a national title. I am excited about returning to Kentucky for the 2017-18 season. I can't wait to play in a Kentucky jersey for the first time.”
Diallo will return in a unique situation as one of the team’s leaders. Although he didn’t play in 2016-17, he became an important player in practice after reclassifying and enrolling at Kentucky in January. In recent interviews at the NBA Draft Combine, former teammates De’Aaron Fox and Isaiah Briscoe raved about Diallo’s defensive presence in practice as the Wildcats went on to win both the Southeastern Conference regular-season and tournament titles before advancing to the Elite Eight.
With five underclassmen entering their names in the NBA Draft (Fox, Briscoe, Bam Adebayo, Malik Monk and Isaac Humphries) and three graduating seniors (Dominique Hawkins, Mychal Mulder and Derek Willis), Kentucky will be tasked with replacing 92.6 percent of its scoring and 76.6 percent of its rebounding from the 2016-17 team.
Reinforcements will be on the way in the form of the nation’s No. 1 ranked recruiting class (Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jemarl Baker, Quade Green, Kevin Knox, Nick Richards, Jarred Vanderbilt and P.J. Washington), but Diallo’s return will add some experience to what will be one of John Calipari’s youngest teams yet.
“I’m really proud of Hami,” head coach John Calipari said. “He took in all the information, asked a lot of questions, including questions to the NBA teams. I love the fact that he wants to put himself in a better position and help lead this new team to a championship. I can’t wait to get him on the court and have all of you fans see what I know. He’s a special player and a special person.”
Diallo will be a leading returner alongside Gabriel, Killeya-Jones and Wynyard. Gabriel is UK’s leading statistical returner from last season after averaging 4.6 points and 4.8 boards as a freshman, including seven games in double figures. He boasted a 23-point performance against LSU and also hauled in 16 rebounds against Auburn which were the most for any UK player at the time since 2014. Killeya-Jones had 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting against UT Martin and 10 blocks over his first nine career games. Wynyard, the youngest player to ever suit up for the New Zealand National Team, appeared in 15 games a season ago for the Cats and adds a bruising inside presence with experience in the program.
Diallo enrolled at Kentucky in January after graduating from Putnam Science Academy in Connecticut in May. A top-10 prospect in the 2017 class before reclassifying, The 6-foot-5 guard from Queens, New York, practiced with the team and was eligible to play in games, but he opted not to play this season in order to adapt to college competition, develop his game and focus on his academics.
A high-flying, high-scoring guard who excels at getting to the basket, Diallo is considered a long, athletic wing with a potential to be a lockdown defender. Before reclassifying last season, he was rated as high as No. 9 (247 Sports) and no lower than No. 11 (ESPN) among the major recruiting services. Both 247Sports and Scout considered him the No. 1 shooting guard in the 2017 class.
In his final full season in high school, in 2015-16, Diallo led Putnam Science Academy to a 38-3 record with an appearance in the state semifinals. The two-time all-state honoree averaged 19.0 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists in his senior season before graduating in the fall. He averaged 17.0 points and 4.0 rebounds as a junior.
Diallo was also a key member of the 2016 USA Men’s U18 National Team that won a gold medal at the 2016 FIBA Americas U18 Championship in July in Chile, where he averaged 7.6 points and 4.6 rebounds for Team USA.