Mamadi Diakite has certainly shown a flair for the dramatic the past two months. Diakite, who saved UVA’s season with a game-tying buzzer beater at the end of regulation in the Elite Eight matchup with Purdue in the 2019 NCAA Tournament, had Cavalier fans on the edge of their seats wondering if he would return to school for his final year of eligibility or stay in the 2019 NBA Draft.
With less than an hour remaining until the deadline to withdraw from the draft had passed, the 6’9” Diakite announced he would return to Charlottesville to help the Hoos defend their 2019 NCAA Tournament title.
— Virginia Men's Basketball (@UVAMensHoops) May 30, 2019
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I am excited to announce that after testing the waters and getting great exposure and encouraging feedback, I have decided to return to the University of Virginia for my senior year. I can’t wait to join my coaches and teammates and get to work as we try to win another one. 🏆
Diakite established career-highs in points per game (7.4), rebounds per game (4.4) and blocked shots (63) this past season as a redshirt junior, helping Virginia to a 35-3 overall record and a national title. The Conakry, Guinea, Africa native was outstanding in UVA’s NCAA championship run, averaging 9.3 points, 8.2 rebounds and 3.2 blocks per game in six tournament contests. This included three double-digit point performances with the final one – a 14-point outing – coming in the Elite Eight against Purdue.
Along with guard Kyle Guy, guard/forward De’Andre Hunter and point guard Ty Jerome, Diakite declared for the 2019 NBA Draft shortly after helping Virginia capture its first ever men’s basketball national title. He participated in the inaugural NBA G League camp but did not earn an invite to the NBA Draft Combine. However, Diakite continued to work out for NBA teams and consider his options up until the withdrawal deadline date.
Diakite’s return is huge for Cavalier head coach Tony Bennett and company, who must replace the “Big 3” of Guy, Hunter and Jerome, as well as the physical presence and leadership of Jack Salt. Provided Diakite builds off his junior season performance, Virginia now boasts a formidable likely starting lineup of point guard Kihei Clark (Soph), either Tomas Woldetensae (Jr) or Casey Morsell (Fr) at the two-guard, Braxton Key (Sr) at the 3, Diakite (R-Sr) at the 4 and Jay Huff (R-Jr) at the 5. Diakite has the chance to be one of Virginia’s top players on both ends of the court next year.
Since the season ended, Virginia has added high school senior combo forward Justin McKoy, the JUCO All-American guard Woldetensae, Marquette traditional transfer Sam Hauser, who will have to sit out the 2019-20 season, and walk-on high school senior point guard Chase Coleman. Bennett still has one scholarship available for 2019-20. The backcourt, especially point guard, is an area that could be addressed with the final opening.
No doubt this was a difficult decision for Diakite, who has spent four years on Grounds and is coming off the big-time NCAA Tournament performance. He has a chance to be a go-to player for the first time in his collegiate career next season, as the Cavaliers will need him to be consistent from start to finish on both sides of the ball. He certainly responded when UVA needed him most this past year, but we’ll see if he can build on that next year.
Developing a consistent game on offense to go along with his defensive prowess certainly could boost Diakite’s stock for the 2020 NBA Draft. Additionally, returning to Virginia gives Diakite, who is still young in terms of basketball experience, the chance to be more prepared when he does embark on his professional basketball career.