Jayhawks prepare for first game with Diallo on the court
LAWRENCE, Kan. — For months on end, Cheick Diallo would text Kansas coach Bill Self, trying to learn in a roundabout way whether there was any movement in the process of getting him eligible.
He’s still texting Self these days.
Now, the topic of conversation is how practice is going.
The five-star prospect was cleared last week to begin playing for the fourth-ranked Jayhawks beginning Tuesday night against Loyola. It ends a months-long saga in which the NCAA claimed to have been examining his coursework from a New York prep school, but ultimately decided that he had only accepted a small amount of improper benefits that resulted in a five-game suspension.
"He should have been playing all along," Self said Monday, continuing to take shots at what he called a flawed investigation. "The NCAA, they have their reasons for doing what they do. Nobody is doubting that. But we had a chance collectively to do the right thing. I don’t think anything done by the NCAA was done in the kid’s best interest at all."
Kansas spent "six figures," according to athletic director Sheahon Zenger, as it sought to answer all of the NCAA’s questions. Diallo’s case slowly became a touch-point on whether the NCAA should have the authority to determine whether student-athletes are eligible to compete.
It also raised questions about the fairness and validity of its investigative process.
"The ball has gotten rolling to the point — and certain things have been exposed — that would make one look at it to see how we can do things better," Self said. "I think if the end result is there’s some improvement that comes from that, I think everybody would be happy."
Diallo, a 6-foot-9 prospect from Mali, has been allowed to practice while the NCAA examined his background, but Self said he mostly worked with the scout team since the start of November.
He’s considered raw offensively, but his never-stop energy and ability to crash the boards has made him a terror in those workouts. Self believes he makes everybody else try harder just by being on the floor, and that may be a bigger contribution than points and rebounds.
It is also what makes NBA scouts salivate over his potential.
"I just try everything hard because I know one day I’ll know the benefits," said Diallo, who grew up playing soccer. "The classroom, basketball, I try everything hard."
Kansas guard Wayne Selden Jr. said the Jayhawks never spent much time worrying about whether Diallo would be eligible. But he also acknowledged that when the news broke, while they were in the hotel during the Maui Invitational, there were plenty of cheers coming out of their rooms.
"He’s very mature, a lot more mature than a lot of us, to be honest," Selden said. "But he’s still an 18-year-old kid adjusting to the college game. You have to be patient with him."
Self said that Diallo won’t start on Tuesday night, but he hopes the power forward is able to play considerable minutes to make up for lost time. After playing Loyola (1-5), the Jayhawks have games against Harvard and Holy Cross before playing Oregon State in Kansas City.
They don’t play a true road game until visiting San Diego State on Dec. 22.
"Right now he’s a runner, jumper, defender, rebounder, and scoring off other misses," Self said. "But he gives us an element, I think, by January or February could be pretty important."
As for those text messages Diallo still shoots off to his coach?
"Some people say sometimes it’s annoying," Diallo said with a good-natured grin. "For me, I just want to know my mistakes. Even if he gets mad at me, I want him to give me some details so I can keep working on my game."