Where there’s a loophole, there’s a way, and leave it to Kentucky to play innovator. Blue-chip shooting guard Hamidou Diallo may be headed to the NBA without ever playing a game for the Wildcats. Diallo announced this week, ahead of the early entry deadline, that he’ll enter the draft without hiring an agent, bringing a unique case in the one-and-done era to an unusual crossroads.
The 6’5” Diallo, a native of Queens, N.Y., graduated from Putnam Science Academy in Connecticut last spring, which means he’s a year removed from high school and will turn 19 this calendar year, making him eligible for the draft. Diallo enrolled at Kentucky in January and began practicing against elite college competition in preparation for the pro transition, in what amounted to an effective redshirt year. He had no illusions about the intent of this move. “When I decided to enroll in school in January, my plan was to come to Kentucky to work on my game and to focus on school,” Diallo wrote in a statement. “At the end of the season, I knew I wanted to see where I was in the draft process and go through that so I could get a proper evaluation.”
The NBA’s one-and-done rule remains controversial, but this is a pathway—one also taken by Milwaukee Bucks rookie Thon Maker a year ago—that enables gifted players who are able to stay ahead of the curve academically to effectively skip college basketball. It’s not a path that works for everyone, but it’s certainly viable in special cases, particularly for players whose draft appeal lies more in projection than their present skills. Those guys are getting drafted anyway, and most NBA teams would rather get them into the pipeline at a younger age.
This sideways path to the draft also helps illustrate why the one-and-done rule, in many respects, is pointless. Even with several months training at Kentucky, how much more prepared is Diallo than he might have been one year ago? If college players can get feedback, remain amateurs and return to school, why can’t elite high school players do the same and still attend college? There’s a greater debate worth having here, and the more Diallos and Makers that bypass college gameplay and have success, the more that aspect of the one and done conversation will be amplified. With the advent of two-way roster spots in the NBA and the growth of salaries across the board, change seems inevitable, if not imminent.
At the very least, the current draft rules make this situation advantageous for Diallo, who’s likely to earn an invitation to the draft combine in May. Scouts regard him as a bundle of potential in need of a reliable jump shot. Using a pick on Diallo this year would basically be a pure upside play—he could carve out a decade-long career in the NBA if everything breaks right, or he could be headed for the D-League pronto. Diallo is vertically explosive with high-end physical tools and a 6’10” wingspan, and could be a valuable contributor with enough skill development. His talent could warrant a late first-round selection, and it only takes one team to believe in him. Diallo’s learning curve will be long, but odds are the conversation surrounding his outlook won’t change drastically a year from now.
So, enter the None and Done. Whether Diallo plays a year at Kentucky or turns pro right away, he’s doing the best thing for himself by finding out.
Where does this leave Kentucky? Philosophically, this is right in line with John Calipari’s player-first M.O., but the on-court product stands to take a hit if Diallo bounces for the league. As it stands, the Wildcats will welcome a five-man recruiting class in the fall and continue to court five-star recruits Mohamed Bamba and Kevin Knox. Diallo aside, Sacha Killeya-Jones, Wenyen Gabriel and Tai Wynyard are the only scholarship players set to return. It’s conceivable if Diallo bolts that Kentucky brings on another guard to fill the rotation out. Regardless, with a smattering of big men and little experience in the backcourt, the Wildcats could be in for one of their more difficult seasons in recent memory.
That said, this whole saga is a win-win for player and school at this point—free skill development, free press, and although he’d be likely to start next season, ultimately, little skin off Kentucky’s back. Calipari had to know Diallo coming out was a possibility. In doubling-down on the whole pro-factory prerogative, he’s never looked more progressive. Undecided college prospects have until May 24, 10 days after the combine, to make a decision on whether to return to school. NBA teams will look into Diallo hard, and he’ll be eager to showcase the strides he’s made since departing the prep school circuit. Until then, consider Diallo a person of interest in a deep draft class.