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Mamadi Diakite trained this summer with the guys who helped LeBron James and Victor Oladipo

The redshirt third year will be a huge piece for the Hoos this season. He made offseason moves to get stronger, working out with the trainers that helped build Victor Oladipo into an NBA star.

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Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports/Streaking The Lawn illustration

Mamadi Diakite is looking ahead to the 2018-2019 season as one of the most important players with arguably the most expectations for the Virginia Cavaliers. Virginia fans know what to expect from players like Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome, De’Andre Hunter, and Jack Salt. First years—whether redshirt or true—are expected to grow into their roles with the Hoos and develop skills.

Diakite, now a redshirt third year, is oozing with potential. He’s improved every year in the program under Coach Bennett, but there’s so much more the 6-9, 228 pound forward can do for Virginia.

In his first year seeing action with the Hoos, Diakite averaged 3.8 points and 2.6 rebounds in 14 minutes per game and shot 54.3% from the field (and a tough 54.5% from the free throw line). Last season, he improved those numbers to 5.4 points and 3.0 rebounds in 15.6 minutes per game, while shooting 57.7% from the field and bolstering his free throw shooting to 78%.

According to KenPom, he had an eFG% of 56% in his first season, which he bumped to 57.7% last year (same as his shooting from the field seeing as he took no three pointers last season).

As a big man in Bennett’s system, those numbers are nothing to shake a stick at. He was usually one of the first players off the bench and replaced Jack Salt alongside starters Devon Hall, Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome, and Isaiah Wilkins; that lineup was used by the Hoos 15.2% of time in their final five games of the season. Diakite’s production in his second year was comparable to the likes of Akil Mitchell, Darion Atkins, and Mike Tobey in their sophomore seasons with the Hoos.

This coming season, however, Diakite will have to step it up. There’s no hiding the fact that Virginia’s biggest weak spot on offense is down low. While that improved slightly last season compared to the 2016-17 season, production down low was often a liability that was partially hidden by Virginia’s ability to shoot the ball. In order to fully make the jump from great team to a team with NCAA tournament success, the Hoos need more (offensively) from their big men.

Diakite will most likely earn a spot in the starting lineup for Bennett and the Cavaliers thanks to the graduation of Isaiah Wilkins, along with some of the task of replacing the 6.0 points per game, 6.2 rebounds per game, and a team-high 49 blocks that departed with him. While I’ll sing Salt’s praises far and wide, I’m not oblivious to the fact that he’s probably not going to become an offensive juggernaut.

Diakite is already trending in the right direction and as his confidence and comfort within the program—on both sides of the ball—improves, so does his performance. “Definitely my confidence is growing, slowly.” Diakite told STL after Virginia’s beat Clemson in the ACC tournament semifinals. “The coaches are telling me to free my mind and play and I’m having more experience from just playing.”

“Those are the changes I’ve been having lately,” he said of that move. “I’ve been having the feel of the game. Sometimes, like today with the reverse dunk, I knew that I had a feel with how the defender leaned on me. Before I would have tried to body him and go shoot it, whatever to my counter move. But, I took what he gave me.”

Diakite already drastically changed his physique, working with Strength and Conditioning Coach Mike Curtis to add 48 pounds to jump from 180 to 228 in three years. Now, he’s is taking bigger steps in the off-season to improve his game even further. This summer, he worked out in Miami with Greg Corso of DBC Fitness—a group he found via Instagram—in the hopes of increasing his vertical and dedicating time to dribbling skills and hand-eye coordination.

DBC, which stands for dumbbells, barbells, and cables, uses principles of biomechanics and applies them to athletes to customize workouts based on what will benefit each athlete specifically. Corso joined DBC Fitness a little over three years ago, shortly after the gym opened. David Alexander, the Owner and Director of Sport Performance & Development, started the gym alongside Donnie Raimon, DBC Fitness’ Movement Analyst / Academic Director.

“Our DBC system we start every athlete...with a full musculoskeletal assessment that we have developed.” Corso said via a phone interview in June. “Basically, it’s taking a lot of important things from different orthopedic-type assessments and putting them all together for our purposes to know how we need to train the individual.”

As Corso explained, most sports will create various imbalances, and there’s a certain range of motion you should have including, but not limited to, the tilt of the head, forward head carriage, and skeletal range of motion. When preparing workouts for athletes, the sport and position is considered as well.

“Our first phase is focused on correcting any imbalances that we find. So there will be something like maybe one hamstring is tighter than the other, so we want to bring those into balance and the parameters the athlete is supposed to be in.”

Diakite’s imbalances were minor, but needed to be corrected before focusing on the skills portion. “Like tuning up your car,” Corso said. In order to fix those imbalances, Mamadi received corrective programming that including 10-12 stretches. At first, the stretches were demonstrated for Diakite, then he would perform them every day on his own before meeting with Corso.

“He’s been good about it,” Corso stated. “He noticed within the first week he started feeling the benefits of that.”

Once the corrective stretches were implemented, Corso introduced workouts tailored to improve Diakite’s dribbling skills and vertical jumping. The Vertimax machine, seen in the video posted by Diakite to his Instagram, is designed to help train your neurological system to be better at jumping, as well as help with the physical strength needed.

At the time of the interview, Diakite had been working out with Corso and DBC Fitness for three weeks, meeting about two-to-three times per week. Even in that short amount of time, Corso had noticed changes in Diakite’s game.

“The vertical definitely—we haven’t measured it again since we started—but it’s improving, for sure. His dribbling is improving. A lot of the things we do is like hand-eye coordination, also.”

As time went on, Diakite’s endurance improved and his brain began to get used to the new processes, meaning he could be pushed a little more each time.

“He’s said his body is just...after the two weeks in general he feels looser and in general able to move more efficiently.”

Overall, Corso was impressed with Diakite, both as an athlete and person.

“He’s a really nice guy. I’ve really enjoyed working with him.” Corso said. “You can tell he’s a good-hearted person and he puts in the effort. He has a good time when he trains and for a trainer, when your athlete is putting full effort and having a good time, that makes it so much better for everyone.”

Diakite is just one of the latest athletes to reap the benefits of DBC Fitness. NBA stars LeBron James and Dwyane Wade have both worked with DBC, as have the NFL’s Von Miller and Antonio Brown. Recently, former Duke player Jahlil Okafor posted a video of himself working out there, looking much leaner than he had previously.

But DBC’s biggest success story may be Victor Oladipo of the Indiana Pacers.

Oladipo played three years at Indiana University, averaging 13.6 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 2.2 steals per game and shot 60% from the field (and 44% from three) in his final season. After deciding to forgo his final year of eligibility with the Hoosiers, the Orlando Magic selected Oladipo second overall in the 2013 NBA Draft.

He spent three unremarkable years with the Magic before spending another unremarkable year with the Oklahoma City Thunder. When he was traded to the Pacers at the start of last season, he was described as not being a “terribly impressive asset” with a “laughably bad” $85 million contract.

Man, oh man were all of the critics wrong about Oladipo. The Pacers finished the season 48-34, eventually losing to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 7 of the first round of the playoffs despite a 30-point effort from Oladipo (James had 45). Oladipo averaged NBA career highs across the board, earning him the title of the NBA’s Most Improved Player.

Some of his improvement can be attributed to experience, and Oladipo has said he learned a lot from Russell Westbrook while he was in Oklahoma City.

Part of it, though, is the fact that he was in peak physical form thanks to his training regimen with DBC Fitness. You may remember that 16 minutes after that soul-crushing and season-ending loss to the Cavaliers, Oladipo texted his trainer, ready to start preparing for the next season.

That trainer was David Alexander. You can’t really blame him for the enthusiasm to get back in the gym, either. In the span of just three weeks last summer, Alexander helped drastically transform Oladipo’s physique:

DBC Fitness helped turn a player who was not much more than an afterthought into one of the more dynamic players in the league. While it would be a stretch to expect the same level of transformation from Mamadi Diakite after a month spent in Miami this summer, it’s a step in the right direction for a player that will enter the 2018-19 season with a lot of expectations in Charlottesville.