Big hopes accompany Kansas teams as college hoops begins
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) Kansas is still waiting for the NCAA to rule on the status of five-star recruit Cheick Diallo, adding another layer of intrigue to the start of the college hoops season in the Sunflower State.
Jayhawks coach Bill Self, whose team plays Northern Colorado on Friday, said Thursday afternoon that there has still been no movement in Diallo's case. The Mali native has been cleared to practice but is barred from participating in games for fourth-ranked Kansas.
There are plenty of questions accompany Wichita State and Kansas State, too.
The No. 10 Shockers are considered Final Four contenders as they open Friday night against Charleston Southern. The Wildcats, who face Maryland-Eastern Shore, are essentially starting over after losing nearly a full roster worth of players to graduation and transfer.
''Not sure we are ready, or anyone in the country is ready, especially when you have a lot of new players,'' Wildcats coach Bruce Weber said. ''We'll see where we're at.''
The Jayhawks have been waiting for months to know whether Diallo, a potential NBA lottery pick, will be available this season. The NCAA has been looking into his academic record from Our Savior New American, a private school in Centereach, New York, and presumably his relationship with Tidian Drame, who has been his legal guardian in the United States.
Earlier this week, Drame hired legal representation in preparation for a legal fight with the NCAA - one Kansas officials still hope can be avoided through administrative means.
The NCAA has not commented on the case, nor said publicly why Diallo has not been cleared.
''He texts me, `Coach, what's up? What are you doing today?''' Self said. ''Every morning, `Coach, what's up?' And that's his way of saying, I'm not going to ask about the situation, but hopefully I am going to give him some information. I haven't had a lot of information to give him.''
Self said the 6-foot-9 forward has taken the uncertainty as well as could be expected. But if the entire case is hard for Self to reconcile, it's nearly impossible for Diallo to understand.
''All he knows is, `I grew up in Mali. I left my family to come over here to live out a dream. I went to where it was a good school, and now they're saying I can't play because of the school I went to,''' Self said. ''It's hard for us to understand that, but it's even harder for him.''
The case has touched off a national conversation on the NCAA's role in determining whether a player should be academically eligible. Some critics, including ESPN analyst Jay Bilas, say colleges are more equipped to make that decision. And in the case of Diallo - who speaks several languages - he has not only been admitted to Kansas but has been performing well in class.
As for the Jayhawks, Diallo could be the missing piece to a national title contender.
While still raw, he is a ferocious rebounder and has earned a reputation in practice for his unwavering energy. Those are two traits Kansas has in relatively short supply.
''He changes practice every day because he tries so hard,'' Self said. ''We all say we try, and our guys try. They try really hard. But he's taking it to a whole different level.''
That kind of effort could come in handy at Wichita State and Kansas State, too.
The Shockers return their core, led by Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker, but still have questions in the paint. High-scoring forward Anton Grady, a transfer from Cleveland, is expected to help fill the void, but it won't be until the Shockers get going that they'll know what they have.
Few would be surprised if VanVleet and Baker bookend their careers with Final Four trips.
As for the Wildcats, they may be the biggest mystery among the three schools from the Sunflower State. Top scorer Marcus Foster and a host of others have left for other schools, and Kansas State is left trying to incorporate 10 new names on a roster with precious few veterans.
''We have had two good exhibition games a week apart where you can come back and regroup to make progress,'' Weber said, ''but now it is for real. We have three games in the next eight days and five games in 13 days, so we will learn a lot about our team.''