Cheick Diallo commits to Kansas, bolstering Jayhawks' grip on Big 12

Five-star big man Cheick Diallo turned down Kentucky and St. John's, among others, and picked Kansas, giving the Jayhawks another boost in their quest for a 12th straight Big 12 regular season title.
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Earlier this month Kansas signed one of the top power forwards in the country, Carlton Bragg. On Tuesday, another blue chip prospect at the same position, Cheick Diallo, verbally committed to the Jayhawks. Diallo was also considering Iowa State, Kentucky, Pittsburgh and St. John’s.

Among Diallo’s five finalists, the Jayhawks, Red Storm and Wildcats were viewed as the strongest challengers to land him. All three of those schools conducted in-home visits with Diallo over the past two weeks, with St. John’s also visiting him at his high school, Our Savior New American School in Centereach, N.Y., according to analyst Evan Daniels.

On April 20, Diallo tweeted a message thanking coaches and fans, prompting speculation that a decision was imminent. 

The Red Storm had targeted Diallo under former coach Steve Lavin and continued their pursuit after he and the school parted ways last month and was replaced by Chris Mullin. Former Kentucky assistant Barry “Slice” Rohrssen and former Iowa State assistant Matt Abdelmassih—both of whom recruited Diallo at their former schools—were added to Mullin’s staff this spring.

In the end, St. John’s could not land New York’s top prospect in the class of 2015. Earlier this month, the Red Storm suffered another blow on the recruiting front when former commit Brandon Sampson—who reopened his recruitment after Lavin was fired—signed with LSU despite a late push from Mullin.

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Though Kentucky failed to reel in Diallo, its 2015 recruiting class includes two other top-10 prospects in point guard Isaiah Briscoe and power forward Skal Labissiere—the top-ranked senior in the country—as well as four-star shooting guard Charles Matthews. The Wildcats also remain in the running for five-star wing Jaylen Brown and five-star center Thon Maker, the only top-10 players who remain uncommitted.

Diallo, a native of Mali, grew up playing soccer. He began playing basketball four or five years ago and was identified during a pickup game, according toThe New York Times. While he has long been considered one of the top players in the country—drawing attention for his work ethic, athleticism, rebounding and shot-blocking—Diallo was especially impressive during this year’s postseason All-Star events. He scored 18 points and grabbed 10 rebounds to earn MVP honors at the McDonald’s All-American Game on April 1 and was named co-MVP at the Jordan Brand Classic on April 17.

Diallo recently measured 6'9" with a 7'4" wingspan, according to DraftExpress, which projects him as a lottery pick in the 2016 draft.

[via YouTube user Courtside Films]

Diallo will strengthen a Kansas frontcourt that returns most of its key contributors from last season. Though former five-star recruit Cliff Alexander elected to enter the NBA draft after a disappointing freshman season, Perry Ellis, who led the Jayhawks with 13.8 points and 6.9 rebounds last season, will be back for his senior year. A Diallo-Ellis frontcourt pairing gives Kansas both low-block scoring and a shot-blocking presence on the other end of the floor.

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Rising junior Landen Lucas and rising seniors Jamari Traylor and Hunter Mickelson should provide additional depth in the frontcourt. Bragg—’s No. 21 player in the class of 2015—could also log minutes off the bench, though he may not be as prepared as Diallo to make a big impact during his freshman season.

Meanwhile, the only significant contributor Kansas loses from its perimeter corps is wing Kelly Oubre. Rising junior Frank Mason and rising sophomore Devonte’ Graham will consume the majority of playing time at point guard, while rising juniors Brannen Greene and Wayne Selden Jr. and rising sophomore Svi Mykhailiuk will split minutes on the wing.

Kansas would have entered next season as the favorite to win the Big 12 for the 12th straight year even if Diallo chose to attend a different program. His addition makes the Jayhawks a surer bet to extend their regular-season championship streak.