On Saturday, former UVA forward Mamadi Diakite was waived by the Milwaukee Bucks. On Sunday night, Diakite was claimed by the Oklahoma City Thunder.
While Diakite’s brief time in Milwaukee was glorious, as he won an NBA championship with the Bucks in July, he never had a chance to reach his potential as a contributing player. The Bucks had a great deal of depth at the power forward and center positions and they will continue to do so this season. Two-time NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo plays the power forward position and the Bucks also have Brook Lopez and Bobby Portis in the front court.
Needless to say, Diakite did not see much action on the court in his rookie year, appearing in just 14 games (including one start) and averaging 3.1 points per game and 2.4 rebounds per game.
In Oklahoma City, Diakite should have much more opportunities to show his talent. The Thunder have some promising players in the front court, but most of those players are young. So, Diakite will fit right in. Darius Bazley is the expected starting power forward in his third season in the NBA, but behind him, there is a ton of room for playing time. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, a rookie from Villanova, is currently listed as the backup power forward on the depth chart. At the center position, the Thunder have third-year player Isaiah Roby, as well as veterans Derrick Favors and Mike Muscala. Mamadi Diakite may have the most upside out of any of those players and OKC will be eager to find out. This could be a great move for Diakite’s career.
Originally from Conakry, Guinea, Diakite played for Virginia from 2015-2020. Of course, Diakite’s career in Charlottesville is immortalized by just one shot - the most iconic shot in UVA basketball history - as he hit a buzzer-beating jumper to tie Virginia’s Elite Eight game against Purdue in 2019 and send the game into overtime.
The shot saved UVA’s season, as the Hoos went on to win their first ever men’s basketball national championship. In his senior season the following year, Diakite started all 30 games and was named Second-Team All-ACC and All-ACC Defensive Team. Diakite finished his career second all-time in blocks with 156, trailing only the great Ralph Sampson.
Diakite went undrafted in the 2020 NBA Draft, before signing a two-way contract with the Milwaukee Bucks on November 24th, 2020. Diakite made his NBA debut on March 11th, 2021, recording two points, two rebounds, two assists, and one block in five minutes off the bench in a Bucks win over the Knicks. However, as we discussed before, Diakite did not see the floor very much in the NBA in his rookie season. Instead, Diakite played 12 games for the Lakeland Magic, Orland’s G League affiliate, as Milwaukee’s G League affiliate, the Wisconsin Herd, decided not to play its 2020-2021 season. Diakite averaged 18.5 points and 10.3 rebounds per game and led the Magic to the NBA G League Championship. Diakite was named to the All-NBA G League First Team, the NBA G League All-Defensive Team, and the NBA G League All-Rookie Team in 2021.
When the Bucks won the NBA Finals in July, Diakite became the first player to ever win the NCAA championship, NBA G League Championship, and NBA Championship.
As Diakite heads to Oklahoma City, he is also reunited with former UVA teammate Ty Jerome, who was traded to the Thunder from the Phoenix Suns on November 16th, 2020. Jerome played in 33 games last season (with one start), shooting 42.3% from three-point range and averaging 10.7 points per game, and he figures to have even more playing time this season.
Jerome and Diakite faced off in an epic finish to a G League matchup back in February. Diakite got the assist on a Magic three-pointer to tie the game, but then Jerome drove down the court and scored over Diakite for the game-winner.
It will certainly be great to see these two former Virginia greats take the court as teammates once again and bring back connections like this from their time in Charlottesville.
Hopefully, both Diakite and Jerome will seize their opportunity to make great leaps in their promising young NBA careers this season.
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