The NBA has some of the best athletes in the world, and those NBA hopefuls entering next month’s draft deserve some of that same lofty billing. These are guys who can sky. A number of them, most in fact, are also kids with great character. They’ve worked hard all their lives for the opportunity to march up the steps at Barclays Center and shake the commissioner’s hands.
So when I’m told by people that know him ... and hoops ... that Hamidou Diallo is ‘the best athlete in this draft class,” it gets my attention. And when they describe him as a ‘terrific young man,” I take more note. Then, when I hear from one of those same people that Diallo, a Queens kid not much younger than me, would be “great” in Brooklyn, well, I think y’all should really get excited.
I don’t want to paint this into some ‘man, myth, legend’ type of deal, but that’s what three coaches who tutored and mentored him in AAU ball told me for this NetsDaily exclusive. These are the people who’ve been with Diallo over his rise from a skinny kid on LeFrak City playgrounds to being a five-star prospect, and now, a potential 2017 NBA Draft Pick at 18 years old.
One of those people was Andy Borman, Executive Director of the New York Renaissance, otherwise known as the ‘Rens,’ one of the premier AAU programs in the country and Diallo’s former squad in the Nike EYBL circuit.
“Our job is to help kids achieve their dreams – one kid I saw a ton of potential in was Hamidou,” said Borman, who the Nets reportedly contacted about Diallo earlier this week. “He’s an incredible athlete with an incredible motor, and has undeniable basketball talent.
“Over the course of coaching him last spring and summer, the thing that impressed me the most was the type of person he is; mature, punctual, attention to detail, accountable, terrific young man. Getting to know him was a blast. Right now my job is to support him and sing his praises.”
Borman adds that he has since kept in contact with Diallo with occasional texts and phone calls, just checking in while offering the kid space. Diallo is at the PreDraft Combine in Chicago this week, but will return to Kentucky where he’s been working out. Borman says his former Rens standout is in a ‘win-win’ situation regardless of his pending decision.
“He’ll either be a player at Kentucky, or a player in the NBA...and he chose Kentucky because John Calipari knows what the hell he’s doing,” Borman says of Diallo. “Everything that a player needs that is unteachable, he has. Shooting is a skill that can be developed, and so is ball handling.
“You can’t teach motor, desire, and the naturally God-given attributes he has. He’s by far the best athlete in this draft. Anything he needs to develop, he can develop, but other guys are never going to be faster and they’re never going to be able to guard the best player, run the floor and attack. Whether he does that is up to him.”
James Barrett is the founder of Unsigned Hype Senior Games. He coached Diallo as an assistant with the Rens and echoed Borman’s description, calling him the best athlete in the entire class, a class which could be the best since 2011.
“I first met Hamidou at Rumble in the Bronx when he was 15, and he played against my team at the time,” said Barrett, who also coached a certain Brooklyn Net at Abraham Lincoln High School in Coney Island. “I was around him at a Future All-American camp as a sophomore, and he was MVP of the whole thing. He stood out, he dominated, and later I saw that he was a decent kid.
“With the Rens, I saw up close that he was very attentive. He’s a great teammate with a positive attitude, works hard, does whatever you ask him to do, and is a leader on and off the court.”
“He has to improve on some things, but that’s everybody,” Barrett continued. “It’s like any other player in this draft. He has a great work ethic, great attitude – he’s going to go as hard as he possibly can to achieve those goals he has set out for him.”
Diallo is originally from Lefrak City, a section of Queens, New York that produced former Net Kenny Anderson. So we’re going to talk up this whole local kid thing, as we did with Isaiah Whitehead.
So as for staying home in New York City, Barrett says it’d be ‘great,’ saying if Diallo joined Brooklyn and the Nets, it would be an ideal scenario for him.
“He’s a high character kid, and fits what they’re looking for. No matter where he is in the NBA, he’s going to work hard and he can handle it.”
Another Rens assistant who has been around Diallo is Henry Dickman. He shared glowing sentiments on Diallo’s ‘jump out the gym’ athleticism ... and his character. Dickman, who is also an assistant at city powerhouse Christ the King High School, adds that Diallo has immense defensive potential, which should also attract NBA teams on draft night ... whenever he comes out.
“It’s not only his jumping ability, he's able to cover a lot of ground when he runs the floor with or without the ball,” Dickman said of Diallo, whom he met in the spring of 2016 at a Rens practice. “He's also a pretty good rebounder for his position and he's got a bunch of different ways he can score once he gets inside of 15 feet. I also feel he has great defensive potential at the next level because of his size and length (an extraordinary 6’11.25” wingspan, as measured at the combine). A more consistent jump shot I would say is his biggest need for improvement.”
We keep hearing about that jumper, which is Diallo’s biggest question mark ahead of the draft. Another season in Kentucky would benefit the former prep star, Dickman says.
“I think it would only help if he went back to Kentucky and got that year of college ball under his belt but if NBA scouts and execs are saying he's a definite first rounder then there's no doubt he should stay in the draft,” Dickman said. “He has the right people around him to help him make the best decision for him and his family.”
The Nets have the 22nd and 27th picks in round one. We have a sense that they’ll take a big risk with one of the two options. Sean Marks has said that second pick, courtesy of the Bojan Bogdanovic trade, give them “flexibility” and a “second swing” at the talent available in a deep draft.
But there are indications that Diallo may not want to go that low in the draft. So far, according to one source close to Diallo, 14 teams have called, but so far, he's not holding interviews with teams outside the top 20.
No player will have as short a ride to Barclays Center on June 22 as Diallo. LeFrak City is only nine miles away. After talking to his coaches, I still don’t know if Diallo ends up a Net, or even remains in this draft. But if he does, don’t be surprised if that Queens-to-Brooklyn commute becomes something permanent.