There have been a few eagerly anticipated freshman debuts at KU over the years. As recruiting hype has grown over the past decade, the attention on those opening games keeps getting bigger. When you throw in an NCAA-mandated delay, it’s like Christmas morning getting delayed. I remember being unreasonably wound up to watch Josh Selby play his first game after a brief, “extra-benefits” related suspension a few years back. He looked sloppy and out-of-shape, but he did knock down the game-winning 3-pointer. Sadly, that was likely the biggest highlight of his career.

So hopefully history is not repeating with Cheick Diallo, who finally got on the court last night. After an uneven six minutes in the first half, he came alive against an over-matched Loyola squad in the second half. An easy dunk off a terrific pass from Wayne Selden. Another dunk on a lob by Carlton Bragg[1]. A nifty baseline jumper. And then the highlight that will be talked about for years, whether he lives up to the hype or turns into a bust.

I was glad that Bill Self was careful to remind people that Diallo is not the second coming of Joel Embiid this week. But when he does things like this…

Anyway, it was good to finally get Diallo on the court. My brief view of the controversy around his eligibility is as follows: the school he went to is likely sketchy, but it is far from the worst that many high-profile basketball players filter through. But nothing about Diallo suggests that he is not prepared or fit for the rigors of college academics, in as much as scholarship athletes are required to apply themselves. I think the NCAA was pretty clearly trying to make a point about his school and used him and his fellow African-native and St. John’s recruit Kassoum Yakwe as examples because it was easier to question kids who had not spent their lives in the American educational system plus had to align themselves with guardians once they got to the States. “How do we know this “guardian” isn’t as agent?” is the NCAA’s go-to argument in these situations.

Which is odd because there is one very notable player at another big-time program who is not from the US, has a “handler” who has guided his progress through high school and summer ball, and who is on record as saying his job was to get his player the best deal from a college. But that kid didn’t miss a game. Whatever.

Anyway, I think the whole thing was stupid and the NCAA handled it amazingly poorly, which hurt any argument they had to keep Diallo out. The five-game suspension for receiving $165 when he first came to the US is patently ridiculous.

But thank goodness he is eligible in early December and can begin to learn about the college game. Again, he’s not Embiid v 2.0. He’s shorter and much rawer. But I think he’s a harder worker than Jojo ever was, which could make up for some of those deficiencies. It’s going to be fun to watch him develop.

Also fun was watching KU bounce back from the Michigan State loss last week in Maui. Granted, they got the kind draw with host Chaminade and a terrible UCLA team. But when they faced a really solid Vanderbilt squad that seemed designed specifically to give them fits, they fought back from an early deficit, played fine defense, rebounded terrifically, and won with relative ease.

Self’s best teams have generally had two point guards on the court. He has that this year in Frank Mason and Devonté Graham. Combined with the rules adjustments, KU is playing as fast as they have since the title team of 2008. Throw in Diallo, who can run with anyone, and we may finally see the return of multiple lobs a game for the first time since Elijah Johnson left.[2]

I also like that while he’s not gone to the emergency offense from 2004, when Wayne Simien was injured and he had no low post scorer, Self seems to be finding more ways to get shooters space and looks from behind the arc. I know it kind of kills him, and I imagine he’ll complain about it on nights when the shots don’t fall. But it’s good he recognizes as good as Perry Ellis can be down low, he struggles against size and there is no other large individual who is a consistent low block threat on the roster. And the 3-pointer is the biggest weapon in the modern game.

It’s still early, though. There’s an easier schedule this month than in Decembers past. It’s good that the Jayhawks are actually putting up points against some of these teams, which is something recent teams have struggled with against the weaker teams on their schedules. It’s going to be fun to watch them work through their growing pains in the month before Big 12 play begins.

Rock Chalk, bitches.

  1. My new favorite player, by the way. That kid is going to be so good.  ↩
  2. My biggest Bill Self complaint is not that they lost to Wichita State last year, or Stanford the year before that. But that he didn’t have an experienced point guard who could throw a decent lob when he had Andrew Wiggins and Embiid on the roster. Can you imagine those guys with either Elijah or Tyshawn Taylor throwing the ball to them???  ↩