With 25 days remaining until Virginia Basketball tips off the 2017-2018 season, we take today to look at #25 for the Hoos, redshirt sophomore Mamadi Diakite.
Diakite, originally from Guinea, is one of UVA’s most intriguing players because of the bundle of potential he holds. After committing to Virginia and reclassifying to the 2015 class to redshirt his first year, Mamadi was immediately thrust into the rotation when Austin Nichols suspended from the team. He turned heads with his thunderous blocks, which he explained, were more exciting to him than scoring.
For example: (“Not you, fat Jesus!”)
Diakite finished the year with 39 blocks, or a block on 12.1% of possessions played, the highest by any UVA player since Tunji Soroye technically put up a 13% in a sparsely-played 2004-05 season. He also developed defensively throughout the year, improving on putting himself in better defensive position so that a thunderous block was not necessary. A focus this year will be translating his athleticism into improved rebounding; while he certainly showed flashes of ability, his consistency lagged at times, and his 8.2% OR%/15.2% DR% trailed behind teammates Isaiah Wilkins and Jack Salt.
That said, his development certainly appears ahead of the curve for big men. Here’s a look at how other Virginia frontcourt players performed in their first year; my two key are: 1) Diakite has been relatively efficient offensively, and 2) these players face a steep learning curve, with relatively substantial improvements over their careers (see Akil Mitchell):
On the season, Diakite averaged four points per game, and never scored more than 8 points during ACC play. The issue wasn’t lack of efficiency, but lack of attempts.
What should we look for this year? Improving offensively will begin with getting more aggressive as a scorer. Last season, Virginia existed as an extremely jump-shot heavy team, particularly late in the year, as no interior player was able to emerge as threat to get to the basket. Diakite did lead the team by making 75% of his shots at the rim...but he was often unable to get those opportunities. Look for him to move better without the ball and get comfortable within the flow of the offense this year. Diakite has the quickness and athleticism to be a significant threat and just has to put it all together.
When the season tips off in 25 days, Diakite has a strong chance at being in the starting lineup of an intriguing frontcourt that includes returnees Isaiah Wilkins, Jack Salt and redshirt freshman Jay Huff. Though all four should see significant time this year, how that time is divided should be an interesting challenge for Coach Bennett.
Check back tomorrow for more UVA Basketball coverage!