Diakite looking for an NBA future, but loved his UVA past

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Photo: Annie Piland

While he was not “live-tweeting” like some of his former teammates during the recent replays of last year’s national championship, Virginia’s Mamadi Diakite enjoyed looking back.

Diakite’s game blossomed during that postseason as the Cavaliers won their first basketball natty.

“Yes, I watched [the games],” Diakite said during a UVA webinar with media on Thursday. “I felt like I was back in the moment again, playing. Being able to flash back and realize I was part of something very special.”

The fifth-year Diakite had hoped to make another magical postseason run this year, and was both disappointed and understanding of the reasons why the college basketball season ended abruptly.

“Safety first,” he said. “People are dying around the world, so I understand why we had to stop it. I was trying to be part of something very special. It hurts, but it is what it is and you have to deal with it.”

Looking back on the recent and distant past was interesting for the UVA grad, but he has turned his attention to the future. Even if the NCAA would grant an additional year of eligibility to basketball players, he will not be coming back. He has hired an agent and is hopeful for the NBA Draft, a dream since he switched from soccer to basketball in his teenage years, moving from Guinea to America.

“I’m hearing some good stuff about myself (concerning the NBA),” Diakite said. “All I can say [to prospective teams] is wherever you want me to play, I am ready.”

He hasn’t really reached out to any of his former UVA teammates currently in the NBA for advice, at least not this time around. At the end of last season, Diakite talked to Malcolm Brogdon, who advised him to either be all in or all out, and not halfway.

“He said if I have to come back to school, then come back and be a killer,” Diakite said.

The Cavalier did test the waters, as he received an invitation to the G-League Camp and participated, but didn’t perform to his own expectations and was snubbed by the NBA Combine. Diakite worked out for a few NBA teams, however, and received important feedback on how to improve his game. He worked hard to do just that, not only with his perimeter shooting but other aspects as well, and is now ready to show pro teams what he can do for them.

Diakite played a key role in Virginia’s success this past season, finishing as a second-team All-ACC selection and making the NABC all-district second team.

He deemed the return for a fifth year at UVA as “a great decision.”

A screenshot of Diakite during his chat with media members on Thursday.

Diakite wanted to help his teammates and coaches do something special again. The Cavaliers entered the ACC Tournament on an eight-game winning streak and were one of the hottest teams in the country.

“We were very confident,” the power forward said. “We were ready to surprise the world and do something special.”

Obviously, that dream never had a chance as sports around the world was suddenly shut down. While this UVA team finished strong as a top-25 team, Diakite has high hopes for the Cavaliers going forward. He and Braxton Key were the two regulars that will move on, leaving an experienced team returning along with some new faces that are sure to make an impact.

One of those players is Sam Hauser, a 6-foot-8 forward who sat out this season after transferring from Marquette. He wowed all of his teammates in practice throughout the campaign.

“Sam is a force,” Diakite said. “I’m going for [Hauser as] ACC Player of the Year.

“He’s an offensive force, very skilled, and I don’t think you want to give him space. He prepared us for every game. He was unbelievable. He’s going to surprise a lot of people.”

Diakite said he believes next year’s team has some potential, but could suffer some ups and downs because of all the new faces. He thinks there will be plenty of weapons with Hauser, Jay Huff and Kihei Clark. 

“I think they are going to go far,” Diakite said.

Asked to break down what he liked about a few of the players returning, Diakite offered up this commentary:

On Kadin Shedrick, the 7-foot freshman who was redshirted this past season … “Kadin is very raw, athletic, long. He’s going to have some minutes so he can get used to the rhythm. He is going to have to be determined and take the role he has and not be discouraged and keep fighting. I think he will have a big impact on the team.”

On Justin McKoy, the 6-8 forward who played in several games this past season … “He reminds me of Isaiah Wilkins. He has to accept and be willing to do what he is asked for and not go outside of that. I think he will bring good things to the team.”

On Francisco Caffaro, another Cavalier 7-footer who will be a redshirt sophomore … “He’s Jack Salt 2.0. Probably a better offensive player … sorry, Jack. He can hurt people (with bone-jarring picks). Defensively, he has to learn to trust the people he is playing with.”

Diakite already mentioned Hauser’s game and didn’t have time to address everyone on the team including the three incoming freshmen, along with returners Casey Morsell, Kody Stattmann, Tomas Woldetensae and Chase Coleman.

After five years in the program and two years at nearby Blue Ridge School, where Virginia coach Tony Bennett first discovered him, Diakite said he will miss the fans, his teammates and the coaching staff.

“I learned a lot of things during my five years here,” he said. “The fans, the love they show you through ups and downs.

“I’m thankful Coach gave me a chance to be here. It took a year for me to decide and I took [the offer] because of who [Bennett] was and what he meant to me. I’m a different man from when I got here.”

Wahoo Nation will be grateful for Diakite’s contribution. They will never forget his golden dome, his ready smile, his drive to get better, “The Shot” against Purdue.

It may have taken a while, but Diakite etched his name in the annals of Wahoo lore forever.

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