Hamidou Diallo returns to Kentucky instead of making the leap from preps to pros

The Dagger
Hamidou Diallo, like <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nba/players/5641/" data-ylk="slk:Thon Maker">Thon Maker</a> last year, was eligible for the NBA draft without playing a college game. (Getty)
Hamidou Diallo, like Thon Maker last year, was eligible for the NBA draft without playing a college game. (Getty)

Almost six months before he’s expected to make his Kentucky debut, Hamidou Diallo showed he already has a knack for beating the buzzer.

The heralded freshman waited until minutes before Wednesday’s midnight deadline before sending out word that he’s withdrawing from the NBA draft and playing for the Wildcats next season.

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Had Diallo remained in the draft, he would have been the rare prospect to go straight from preps to pros. The 6-foot-5 wing enrolled at Kentucky in January at the start of the spring semester and practiced with the Wildcats during the second half of last season, but he chose not to appear in any games out of fear that not making a sufficient splash would damage his draft stock.

The NBA was an option for Diallo because of the same loophole that Milwaukee Bucks rookie Thon Maker took advantage of a year ago. Since Diallo graduated from high school last spring and turns 19 in July, he was eligible to enter the draft without playing a year in college first.

Diallo had a chance to be a first-round pick next month because of his explosive first step to the basket, high-level motor and jaw-dropping physical tools. He posted a 44.5-inch vertical leap earlier this month, the highest of any player at this year’s draft combine and the second highest in combine history. His wingspan of just over 6 feet, 11 inches was longer than several power forwards expected to be selected next month.

For Diallo, returning to school is high-risk, high-reward because he won’t be able to hide any longer. It’s easy to envision him playing his way into next year’s lottery by showing improvement in his ball handling, passing and outside shooting. Or he could fall out of the first round altogether if he suffers an injury or reveals he’s more of an athlete than a basketball player.

Kentucky fans spent much of Wednesday refreshing their social media accounts every few minutes because Diallo’s decision was critical to the Wildcats’ title hopes next season.

Eight of Kentucky’s nine top scorers from this past season either graduated or turned pro, leaving forward Wenyen Gabriel as the most accomplished returning player. As a result, the Wildcats will lean even more than usual on a star-studded incoming freshman class that includes a half dozen other five-star prospects.

For a few weeks, Kentucky couldn’t be sure if Diallo would be part of that class or not. Now they can rest easy knowing that he’ll be a centerpiece of next year’s young but talent-laden team.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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