Cheick Diallo hated basketball. He can admit that now. The sport seemed foreign, he says, the movements were new and awkward. In his home country of Mali, where Diallo grew up in the capital city of Bamako, young women excelled at basketball, Diallo says. Young men played soccer.
Diallo was one of those boys, a lanky defender who could run all day. Diallo, though, didn’t stop growing, which presented a problem. So five years ago, when Mamadou Diallo asked his 6-foot-5 teenage son to give basketball a shot, Diallo tried the sport for two weeks. Then he contemplated quitting.
“I just (felt) like: ‘I’m not getting better,’” Diallo says. “I just talked to myself one day. I need to do it. I need to play basketball. I need to take it seriously (for) my dad. … He’s wasting his money for no reason.”
…Five years later, as Diallo sits inside Allen Fieldhouse on a Thursday afternoon, no one would dare question his love for the game. He stands 6 feet 9, a McDonald’s All-American forward with an engine that runs like a Dodge Challenger Hellcat. He came to the United States to pursue the sport, spent three seasons at a high school in New York, and now he sits here at Kansas, a missing piece on a team with Final Four aspirations.
“I can’t wait,” Diallo says, thinking ahead to Kansas’ Late Night in the Phog later this month.
KC Star via WE
Cheick Diallo, who came to the USA in 2011 and toiled four seasons for Our Savior New American in Centereach, New York, was cleared (by the NCAA) to practice with his new college teammates Wednesday. He had a somewhat shaky workout — “I got the flu on Sunday, and it was hard to breathe like normal,” he explained — but was thrilled to just be on the court.
…He politely asked the media to direct any questions about his case to his coach.
Diallo, MVP of last year’s McDonald’s and Jordan Brand Classic all-star contests, was asked point-blank (if he qualifies) how long he planned to stay in college.
“I mean, I cannot talk about anything now. Maybe (it) can be four years,” the possible one-and-done talent said.
Asked if he is the top player in his recruiting class, Rivals.com’s No. 5-ranked player said: “If people are asking me ... yes, I am. I like to compare. I like to say I am the best ... I can say he is better than me, but if we play, everybody knows who is better. I can say I am the top player in the class, yes. I just feel like I am.”
Known as an energetic player, Diallo showed that hustle at practice Wednesday.
“He gets out there and goes hard. We had to tell him to calm down a little,” senior Jamari Traylor said with a smile, noting Diallo was a bit too active when defending senior Perry Ellis. “But it’s easier to tell someone to turn it down a notch than to turn it up a notch.”
As far as what he does well and what he needs to work on, Diallo responded, “Offense, that’s basically easy. I can score either way,” Diallo said. “I need to get more rebounds, more blocked shots.”
Though Cheick Diallo can speak four languages, he’s been most concerned with English lately.
Especially when it comes to people talking about his basketball skill set.
“A lot of people say, ‘Cheick cannot shoot. Blah, blah, blah,’ ” the Kansas forward said with a smile during Thursday’s KU basketball media day. “So I’ve got to prove to people that I can shoot.”
The 6-foot-9 freshman went to work on that this summer.
For most days — including every day in July — Diallo went to KU’s practice gym to fire up 700 15-foot jumpshots. Most days he’d make between 75 and 80 percent of his attempts, taking a photo of the final tally before sending it to coach Bill Self.
“He said that’s good. That’s progress,” Diallo said. “That’s what he told me every time. Keep working.”
Diallo claims he'll continue to do that as he waits on the NCAA to rule on his eligibility for this season.
Self said Thursday that Diallo was allowed to practice with the team and take part in next week’s Late Night in the Phog. Still, Diallo’s playing status remains in limbo as the NCAA investigates the coursework Diallo took at Our Savior New American in Centereach, N.Y.
Self said KU was still in the process of gathering and sending documents to the NCAA Eligibility Center on Diallo’s behalf.
“Can't really give a decision if you don't have the information in front of you,” Self said. “We hope (a decision) is sooner rather than later. I've said that all along. But I don't know that there's any indication that there will be an exact timeline other than the fact I'm sure it will be done before the season starts.”
…Self gushed about freshman forward Carlton Bragg, who was a McDonald’s All-American last year along with Diallo.
“Carlton is one of the most talented big guys we've had since I've been here,” Self said. “Offensively, obviously, a Marcus Morris-type guy. He's one of those guys that has that type of skill, and it's going to take time, but certainly I think he has a chance to be a special guy.”
“I love friends here,” he said. “I love food. I love food. I love people. I love school. I love everything over here.”
He turned the clock back a year and opened a window into what the 17-year-old boy was feeling.
“I’m not American,” he said. “It was new country for me. New language. New team. New system. New coach. It was not like for American guys who have been here all their life, playing AAU, high school, watching NCAA basketball, so they kind of know what to expect.”
…“I’ve been here for a year,” Svi said. “I feel more confident. I think my shot’s going to be good this year. We’ll see.”
He has added 17 pounds of muscle, which ought to help him maintain balance when being shoved cutting or driving to the hoop.
“I think it will help me on defense, too,” he said. “I can be more physical, stronger. On offense, I go inside more and make shots with contact.”
Svi said he would like to shoot “39 or 40 percent” from three.
Naturally, he shoots a way higher percentage than that when spot-shooting, being fed the ball by a rebounder and moving from spot to spot along the three-point semicircle.
“Working out with him this summer, getting in the gym shooting with him, he shoots the ball like crazy,” Devonté Graham said. “He was making, like, 49 threes in a row, crazy stuff like that.”
That was such a crazy number, I had to seek confirmation.
Forty-nine in a row?
“No,” Svi said. “It was 47.”
When KU men’s basketball coach Bill Self ponders the simple roster math, one thing becomes clear. Kansas may have 10, 11 or even 12 players worthy of playing time this season, Self says, but he is not going to play 10 or 11 players.
“It’s going to be hard this year figuring out who to play,” Self said Thursday during KU’s annual media day at Allen Fieldhouse. “And that’s what I tried to explain to our players yesterday.”
…It is still early, of course, but Self offered a few hints on the roster crunch before the Jayhawks’ officially began practice Friday. When asked specifically about Mykhailiuk, Self acknowledged the backcourt is a “crowded house.”
“It’s hard to say you expect certain guys to do certain things if, in fact, they may not be starters,” Self said. “But I expect Svi to challenge for a starting position and … if he doesn’t start, be as good as any reserve in the country.”
When asked about Vick, who could be lost in the wealth of backcourt talent, Self said: “He’s going to be really good, but he’s got a lot of stuff to learn. He’s got some experience ahead of him.”
Last summer at the World University Games, the Jayhawks were given the opportunity to participate in an extra month of practice and games, the latter of which was experience that nobody else in the country could mirror. Junior forward Landen Lucas said that experience should pay dividends in the 2015-16 season.
“It’s something that, come tournament time, small things like that become a big factor,” Lucas said. “You might not see it early on. We might look like the same team we would have been. But I think when it really gets going and it gets to the games that matter, we’ll be better as a team.”
The Jayhawks still have a ways to go before their regular season starts. The team’s home opener is still over a month away — November 13. The first “big game,” to use Lucas’ words, will come four days later against Michigan State.
Mickelson seemed upbeat about his role on the team, especially after a productive summer at the World University Games. As he starts his senior year, he said he knows what the coaches want from him, and he knows how he can continue to be productive.
“[I just have to] stay mentally tough,” Mickelson said. “I’ll do whatever I have to do to help out.”
Mickelson averaged just 2.4 points and 1.8 rebounds per game last year, but there is some room for that role to increase, especially with Cheick Diallo’s eligibility still up in the air.
Late Night is a special experience for the players, particularly for the freshmen. Freshman forward Carlton Bragg got a sneak peek of how special Late Night can be, as a recruit last year.
“Coming in as a recruit I was blown away,” Bragg said. “Having the fans cheer me on, it felt like home. At that moment, I knew I was in the right place.”
"NBA 2K16" players may be able to wear Jayhawk jerseys and play on a court painted exactly like Allen Fieldhouse’s, but Marchiony emphasizes the game has no names or likenesses of active KU players. “The avatars, or the characters, are very generic,” he said. Without digressing too much, the reason colleges haven’t been in basketball video games for the past few years involved a dispute with the NCAA about just that.
In game mode, though, you can supposedly play a certain fresh-out-of-KU NBA draftee. (Hint: tall hair.)
2K contracted with and is paying several recent draftees, Marchiony said, and "apparently one of them is Kelly Oubre (Jr.).” Marchiony said he can’t judge how much the player really looks like Oubre, now of the Washington Wizards, because he hasn’t played the game and admittedly probably won’t.
One might say celebrities are running circles around this income property in Beverly Hills.
Known for its cylindrical glass-and-steel appearance, the Ed Niles-designed contemporary has become a short-term go-to for A-listers and athletes since selling last year for $10.5 million.
The property is offered at $59,000 a month for long-term lease or between $5,500 and $6,000 a night for short-term tenants. Occupants of note include Justin Bieber, who leased the steel-ribbed fishbowl after his exit from Calabasas last year, and rapper Meek Mill, who in February used the house to throw a Grammy after-party.
More recently, NBA players Markieff and Marcus Morris popped in for a visit before the start of training camp. The twin brothers, who play for the Phoenix Suns and Detroit Pistons, respectively, also had a $20,000 private chef and a personal driver at their disposal during their six-day stay.
The year after the conference title, Popovich took a sabbatical. He’d developed a relationship with Larry Brown after trying out for (and getting cut from) two teams Brown coached — the 1972 U.S. men’s Olympic team and the 1976-76 ABA Denver Nuggets. During his leave, Popovich spent half the year with Brown at Kansas, shadowing him and serving as a volunteer assistant with the Jayhawks. The next season, Brown invited Popovich to return to Lawrence with the Pomona-Pitzer team for an early-season nonconference game.
That’s how, in 1987, the Sagehens wound up in Allen Fieldhouse, where they found 16,000 screaming fans, a future Hall of Fame coach on the opposing sideline, and Danny Manning, one of the greatest college players of all time, warming up on the other end of the gym. Before the game, Popovich told his team: “Don’t listen to what I say to the media. I’m going to say some stuff because I have to, but don’t pay attention to that.” And sure enough, in pregame interviews he played the gracious doormat. “We cannot win,” he told reporters before the game. “No way.” But with the team he took a different tone. “He wanted us to enjoy the moment and soak it in,” Duque says. “But as soon as the ball went up, it was competition. It’s not like he was saying, ‘Hey, let’s just have fun and make sure not to hurt Danny Manning,’ or anything like that. I’m sure in our minds we knew what this was. But the mentality was to try to win.”
They never had a chance. “Kansas’s cheerleaders were bigger than we were,” Duque says. “There was just no way.” In the second half, Popovich called a timeout, pulled out his whiteboard, and drew up a backdoor lob that he knew Kansas liked to run. He looked at one of his players, John Peterson. “You can’t get screened,” Lee recalls Popovich saying. “You have to fight through it. And if you do, you have to jump with your guy. You have to compete.” On the very next possession, sure enough, Kansas ran the play exactly as Popovich had drawn it up. Peterson got screened. He failed to fight through. He never jumped. He looked up as his man dunked.
On the bench, the Sagehens laughed hysterically. There was nothing Popovich could do, nothing anyone could do, but stand on the sideline shaking his head, and then smile.
Pomona-Pitzer lost 94-38. The next week’s student paper carried a story about the game. The headline: “Kansas Upsets the Sagehens.”
Grantland: Poppo’s Boys
“Pay Heed. The game you love began here. Respect those who came before you. Make their legacy your own. Because destiny favors the dedicated. And rings don’t replace work. In this game you don’t get what you want. You get what you earn. We are Kansas. Together we rise. Rock Chalk Jayhawk!
Big 12 / College News
Big 12 announces Big 12 Champions for Life
At the start of last season Weber used the term “cautiously optimistic” to describe his team. He sensed impending trouble.
“The whole reason I was doing that was I knew we had some issues,” Weber said. “Yet, our ticket people don’t want me to say this, this and that because they want to sell tickets and they want people excited. I was trying to tactfully use a word that kept a little bit of a damper on things.”
“We have removed ourselves from last year since the summer. They have been a good group to deal with. We aren’t fighting or having little issues every day,” Weber said. “I always talk about Tigger and Eeyore. We got some Tiggers. Eeyores are no fun to coach or be friends with and we have guys happy, bouncing around, flying around, enjoying it. Now, can they keep that same energy and same excitement when things get a little tougher here? We will see.
“That is one (reference) I like, because they are so extreme. I always ask them, ‘Do you want to hang around with Eeyore? Or do you want to hang around with Tigger? I don’t know if you can deal with Tigger all the time, but you sure don’t want to hang around Eeyore, some negative grumpy guy. You want excitement and happiness. That is the fun of coaching when guys come in and they are happy and they are excited and they want to practice and want to get better.”
None of that guarantees a successful season, but it beats the alternative.
Navy SEAL training should bring out your best, theoretically. What really struck John McGuire last week was how the Longhorns were willing to do just about anything first-year coach Shaka Smart asked.
“I could tell the trust they have for him is growing,” said McGuire, who used to put Smart’s players at Virginia Commonwealth through the same regimen. “They were willing to go into some crazy stuff.”
Smart has spent months building relationships with his players in the coaches’ offices, weight room and dining hall. Starting Friday, they all move into Cooley Pavilion as the Longhorns begin full team workouts for the 2015-16 season.
The men’s basketball team is still weeks away from any public unveiling. Big 12 media day is scheduled for Oct. 20. The first exhibition game is Nov. 6 against Tarleton State. The season opener is Nov. 13 against Washington in Shanghai, China.
Unlike last season, there probably won’t be any misguided talk about reaching the Final Four in October. This team, while chock full of veteran leadership, may have its doubters, considering how the Horns struggled down the stretch last spring.
The Longhorns were a popular pick to win the Big 12 last season, but finished tied for sixth. Texas was bounced in the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament, and coach Rick Barnes was fired after his 17th season.
Smart, widely considered one of the nation’s best up-and-coming coaches, changes the program’s dynamic. His infectious energy will be a recurring theme throughout the preseason.
The freshmen class is already generating buzz. Kerwin Roach, a state-champion triple jumper, leaped more than 13 feet in the air and tapped a marker. The video tore up the Internet earlier this week.
Can the Horns tear up the Big 12 this season? Several Big 12 stars return, including Iowa State’s Georges Niang and Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield. With Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis returning, Kansas will likely be picked to win its 12th straight league title.
“Let’s Ball: A Kentucky story of shared sacrifice, brotherhood and the collective chase of history,” which was shot, edited and produced by UK Sports Video, is a one-of-a-kind look into how 16 talented Kentucky basketball players came together to chase history and ultimately capture it in so many ways.
The 2014-15 Wildcats were rich in talent, depth and motivation – all ingredients for a memorable season – but the true story of last season’s historic Kentucky team was its willingness and even its insistence to sacrifice and share for the greater good of the team. Let’s Ball goes beyond the dizzying displays of dominance to capture what made the 2014-15 Wildcats so special and tell the real story of a team college basketball fans won’t soon forget.
The all-access documentary, which features more than two hours of content, takes viewers through the entire historic season with behind-the-scenes content never seen before and exclusive interviews with head coach John Calipari and the Wildcats.
And for his next trick, Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari will lose seven players to the NBA draft and still attempt the seemingly impossible feat of following a near-perfect season in which his Wildcats set an NCAA record by winning their first 38 games before falling in the Final Four.
The crazy part: After reloading with another top recruiting class, Calipari still has six former five-star prospects and a potential No. 1 overall pick on his roster. And with no obvious juggernauts heading into the 2015-16 season, Kentucky looks like one of the best teams in America yet again.
Incredibly, Las Vegas was taking bets on another undefeated run this summer.
Calipari was not.
"Last year's team was an anomaly," he said. "That should be thrown out. Don't ever look at it, don't compare. If you tell me about that team, stop, just don't tell me, because that may never happen again."
…There won't be enough for a repeat of the platoon system, but there are elite players at every position and in all shapes, sizes and skill sets. There's a trio of point guards – 5-9 Ulis, 6-3 bulldog Briscoe and Murray – which Calipari plans to play all together at times.
There's Poythress and the springy 6-9 Lee, plus 6-11 Labissiere (the possible top pick) and another late recruiting addition, 7-foot, 260-pound Australian freshman Isaac Humphries. Junior-college transfer Mychal Mulder (6-4) is a sharpshooter and top-100 freshman Charles Matthews (6-6) is a lockdown defender and high-flying finisher.
That's enough talent to leave homegrown juniors Dominique Hawkins and Derek Willis scratching for whatever's left of the playing time. Calipari won't force the issue on sharing minutes this time around.
"This isn't the eighth-grade league. I did what I did last year because I had no choice. Everybody deserved to play," Calipari said, but "some of my best teams, I've played five guys, six guys. I mean, my best teams."
Reducing the shot clock from 35 seconds to 30 seconds is the most significant of the changes and will be the one easily noticed by even a casual hoops fan. With less time to shoot, teams will be forced into their offense sooner, and the end result should be two or three additional possessions per game and - hopefully - more points on the scoreboard.
Noted college basketball statistician Ken Pomeroy studied the postseason CBI, CIT and NIT Tournaments, all of which used the 30-second shot clock last season, and found slight increases in possessions, scoring and offensive efficiency.
But smart college basketball coaches will adapt. They’re not going to sit back and watch opponents shred the nets. They’ll put their defenders in position to suppress such scoring. The best path to terrific defense, as Luke Winn of SI.com pointed out earlier this summer, is to force opponents to shoot late in the shot clock. Data that Winn compiled via Synergy Sports Technology reveals that college basketball teams are remarkably inefficient when they shoot with less than four seconds on the shot clock, scoring an average of 0.703 points on those possessions (an average Division I team scores 1.00 points per possession a game for the season).
And as Pomeroy’s data has revealed in recent seasons, the best defensive teams force opponents into longer possessions. For example, Virginia and Kentucky led the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency last season (points allowed per possession). Both ranked in the top 31 (out of 351) in opponent’s average possession length.
Conversely, faster possessions are better for the offense. Only four out of the 50 teams that allowed the shortest possessions ranked in the top 100 in adjusted defensive efficiency, per KenPom.com
So, what strategy will coaches use to improve their defense by forcing opponents into bad shots late in the shot clock? Zone defense is the obvious choice, because a good one can confuse offenses, control dribble penetration and in general force a team to take longer to run a set play. We’ve all seen an ugly offensive possession against a zone. A team passes the ball around the perimeter for 25-30 seconds, then forces up a contested, out of rhythm jump shot as the shot clock dwindles toward zero. Last season, the national DI average for 2-point jump shots was 35.7 percent per hoop-math.com. That's a number any coach would be thrilled to see his defense produce.
Zone defense has trended upward in recent seasons. Louisville used a press paired with a matchup zone en route to the 2013 national championship. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski's teams have played man-to-man exclusively throughout his Hall of Fame career. But he implemented a zone midway through last season and it helped his talented offensive group improve defensively and cut the nets in Indianapolis.
Tickets for the early rounds of the 2016 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship — including the First Four at the University of Dayton Arena — will go on sale Oct. 17 at 10 a.m. Fans wishing to buy tickets to the First Four, first- and second-round games or regional competition should go to NCAA.com/MBBTickets.
…Following the First Four, First- and second-round action takes place Thursday and Saturday, March 17 and 19, in Denver; Des Moines, Iowa; Providence, R.I.; and Raleigh, N.C. Also, hosting first- and second-round games Friday and Sunday, March 18 and 20, will be Brooklyn, N.Y.; Oklahoma City, St. Louis and Spokane, Wash.
…Louisville, Ky. will serve as the South Regional site and Anaheim, Calif. will host the West Regional on Thursday and Saturday, March 24 and 26. Philadelphia will be the site for the East Regional and Chicago will host the Midwest Regional on Friday and Sunday, March 25 and 27.
…The 78th NCAA Men’s Final Four will be co-hosted on April 2 and 4 by the University of Houston, Rice University and Texas Southern University. General tickets to the games at NRG Stadium in Houston are sold out, but fans still have the opportunity to purchase ticket and hospitality packages from PrimeSport, the official ticket and hospitality provider of the NCAA, by visiting NCAA.com/VIP. The NCAA Experience ticket and hospitality packages for all preliminary rounds of the championship can also be purchased at that website via PrimeSport.
If Miles Bridges picks MSU over Kentucky and Indiana on Saturday at Mott Community College in his hometown of Flint, Izzo will add a consensus top-15 player and 6-foot-6 combo forward to point guard Cassius Winston (U-D Jesuit), shooting guard Joshua Langford (Madison, Ala.) and big man Nick Ward (Columbus, Ohio).
“The ultimate destination of Miles Bridges is starting to look pretty clear here,” Rivals.com analyst Eric Bossi said Thursday of Bridges leaning toward MSU, and the fact that Kentucky received a verbal commitment Thursday from a similar player – 6-10 combo forward Wenyen Gabriel from Wilbraham, Mass. – only reinforces that idea.
…“Now we really start to dream big time, we start talking Josh Jackson,” Bossi said of MSU and a 6-7 wing from Detroit who plays in Napa, Calif. “There’s been lots of rumbles lately that maybe he’s really starting to really consider Michigan State seriously, and maybe even perhaps leaning that way.”
Lansing State Journal
One of the NBA’s biggest stars is now directly involved with Kansas City’s AAU basketball scene.
Kevin Durant, the former NBA MVP and current member of the Oklahoma City Thunder, has signed on to be an official sponsor of MOKAN Elite, a Kansas City-based AAU basketball program that has produced such players as Alec Burks, Willie Cauley-Stein, Willie Reed and Semi Ojeleye. Durant and MOKAN announced the news Thursday.
Durant will lend his name and brand to the AAU program, which competes in Nike’s Elite Youth Basketball League, one of the most prestigious AAU circuits in the country. Durant has a longtime affiliation with Nike; he signed a megadeal to remain a representative of the company in 2014.
“We’re incredibly fortunate and excited,” said Matt Suther, MOKAN’s Founder and current Program Director. “This will give us an opportunity to do some really special things for kids, not only in Kansas City, but throughout the region.”
Last weekend was one of the biggest recruiting weekends in recent memory for the University of Louisville basketball team, with the premier Class of 2016 guard, De'Aaron Fox, in town for an official visit.
This weekend is just as important.
Louisville will host its other two primary recruiting targets for official visits this weekend, with five-star California forward T.J. Leaf and four-star Texas guard Andrew Jones on campus for the Cards' first Red-White intrasquad scrimmage Saturday.
…The Cards have two more scholarships open for the 2016-17 roster, and they would like to sign either Fox or Jones to give next year's team depth and star power in the backcourt. Leaf, a stretch power forward who projects as a small forward in the NBA, would be a luxury add to Louisville's roster, but he certainly would be a welcome addition if he chose the Cards over the five other schools he's considering.
…As for Leaf, he has been considered a UCLA lean since he decommitted from Arizona, but the forward has grandparents and extended family in Evansville, and his parents both grew up in Indiana, making U of L an intriguing option. He will make official visits to Kansas, Oregon and UCLA later this month. North Carolina, like Louisville, has worked hard to make up for lost time in Leaf's recruiting process.
Recruiting Calendar (updated for 2015-16)
Late Night in the Phog
Bill Self Camp KU Alumni games
60 Years of AFH Celebration
Legends of the Phog game
2011-12 Final Border War
KC Prep Invitational
and more, now on YouTube