Virginia basketball’s post players accounted for only 26.7% of the team’s point production in 2016/2017. This stat is not surprising given the fact that Austin Nichols, who was supposed to be UVA’s major inside presence last season, was kicked off the team after the second game of the year – the only collegiate game he ever played as a Cavalier.
Nichols’ departure cost the Cavaliers a dependable offensive presence in the post. It also meant bigger roles for other players, including Mamadi Diakite, a promising 6’9” forward who had redshirted the previous year. A player with tons of athleticism and upside but not a lot of experience, Diakite was embarking on just his third season of organized basketball since arriving in the United States in the winter/spring of 2014.
Isaiah Wilkins, Jack Salt, and the now-departed Jarred Reuter (George Mason transfer) joined Diakite in UVA’s frontcourt rotation last season.
“We had that pressure on us where the coaches were asking us to do something and we didn’t have anyone who could score for us inside,” Diakite said matter-of-factly. “We would be able to stop some teams but we wouldn’t be able to score.”
Since his days at Blue Ridge School in St. Georgia, Virginia, Diakite has always seen himself as a stretch-4 type of player offensively. He took 11 3-pointers all of last season, making three, and was just as likely to pull the trigger on a jumper than show off inside post moves. Season highlights included a crucial 10 points in a win over Providence and 12 points in a win over East Carolina. He had 9 points, 6 rebounds, and 1 blocks in the Cavaliers’ season-ending loss to Florida in the NCAA Tournament Round of 32.
Overall, Diakite made 54.3% of his field goals while averaging 3.8 points, 2.6 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks per game during his redshirt freshman campaign.
Looking to build off the valuable experience he gained last year, Diakite has worked on his body as well as his offense this past offseason. Offense was a focus for the talented redshirt sophomore as well as the rest of UVA’s post players this offseason, and Diakite estimated that 90 to 95% of the team’s summer work was on improving on that end of the court.
“Coach realized our offense has struggled a lot in past year,” Diakite said. “Throughout this summer that has been emphasized … creating own offense.”
“Throughout the summer I’ve been working a lot on my post moves,” Diakite continued. “Coach Williford and Sanchez have made us more comfortable down low. We’ve been asking for the ball more than in past years. I think that’s something that could really help the guards.”
In addition to developing some post moves, Diakite says he is working on “putting the ball on the floor much more than before.”
Standing 6’9” and boasting length, speed and quickness, Diakite has the potential to become a major force in Tony Bennett’s Pack-Line defense. He expects to be able to guard 3s this season, in addition to guarding post players.
Asked how comfortable he is with the Pack-Line, Diakite replied: “I understand it better than I did last year. It’s not perfect yet, but I’m taking steps towards that way.”
Diakite, guards Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy, guard/forward De’Andre Hunter, and forward/center Jay Huff are the highest-rated players Bennett has recruited to UVA. This group undoubtedly figures to be a large part of Virginia’s program now and for the next several years.
This year, the talented group is yielding to and learning from the leadership given by seniors Isaiah Wilkins and Devon Hall, and redshirt junior Jack Salt.
“The program relies on us a lot,” Diakite said, referring to UVA’s sophomore and redshirt freshmen. “What we’re trying to do is take as much as we can from the older guys, the leaders. They’ve been so much to us, and we better do it now. They’ve been through a lot. Asking them, not only the coaches, will be a big plus for us to get to be the best in the nation.”
As for this year, Diakite is excited and ready to kick off the 2017/2018 season.
“We’ve made a really big jump from last March Madness to now,” Diakite said.