What Will Hamidou?

The UK players looked at the score board during the second half of the game vs Florida.  UK lost to the Gators 88 to 66. (Photo by Victoria Graff)

The UK players looked at the score board during the second half of the game vs Florida. UK lost to the Gators 88 to 66. (Photo by Victoria Graff)

Just before the start of the Alabama game on Saturday, Kentucky got some surprising good news.

The NCAA committee announced a tournament bracket featuring the top 16 teams, not only in order of seed but also the sites of their first-round games.

It was a complete exercise in nothing. There’s still a month before anyone goes anywhere. The seedings are unofficial and non-binding. It was called an effort by the committee to be “transparent,” though the only transparency was to fill a half-hour of Saturday afternoon TV time before the games began.

In fact, if Kentucky weren’t tipping off immediately afterward, I wouldn’t have been watching it. But I did, and was (pleasantly) surprised to see the Wildcats get a No. 3 seed, heading to the East Regionals in the Garden. (The mischievous committee even had Kentucky in the same bracket as Louisville.)

Anyone who has watched the Cats the last two weeks – including, presumably, everyone who had a voice in the seedings – could not have seen a three seed. The losses to Kansas and Tennessee were painful, and the loss to Florida was embarrassing. Even the wins over Georgia and LSU were hold-your-nose specials.

Of course, it won’t hold up. It has as much structural integrity to withstand the winds of March as the little pig’s straw hut. It was a complete waste of everyone’s time. I guess CBS and the NCAA split some advertising revenue.

Here’s another complete waste of time. As this year’s UK fabulous freshmen have been exposed as lacking something – concentration, maturity, seasoning – the wail has gone out for another fabulous freshman to rescue the ship.

Put in Hamidou Diallo!

In a John Calipari-era at Kentucky already filled with oddities, this one’s the oddest.

Calipari is very particular about the kinds of recruits he goes after. A kid has to be willing, in what’s likely to be his only college season, to fold his enormous talents into the team concept, sacrificing shots, playing time and statistics. Cal doesn’t try to fool us with the idea that it’s for “the old college try.” His focus, in the long run, is that those skills will impress NBA scouts.

Do they? Ask the teams that took a chance on John Wall, Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns and Devin Booker.

Diallo, a kid from Queens, New York, who played for a prep school in Connecticut, was on everyone’s short list for the freshman recruiting class of 2017-18. And then he went and did a peculiar thing: He graduated high school.

This meant he could sit out the 2016-17 season entirely, playing for nobody, and place his name immediately in the next NBA draft. And that looked like what he might do.

Until he announced – seemingly out of nowhere – that he would enroll at Kentucky for the spring semester of 2017. Which meant:

[A] He’d work out against some of the best college ballplayers around; get intense, high-quality practice time with mentors like Calipari, Kenny Payne and Tony Barbee; hone his skills; and enter the NBA draft in the spring with a UK pedigree.


[B] He’d bide his time and join another blue-chip recruiting class at Kentucky for the 2017-18 season.


[C] He’d take the short course, study the Cliff Notes, and join this season’s team in time for the NCAA tournament in March.

Cal was coy about [A] and [B] (maybe he and Diallo really hadn’t decided), but he was adamant about [C]: Diallo would not join this team for this season.

Not right for the kid or for the other players or for the team.

And that all made perfect sense. Until Kentucky’s freshmen suddenly began playing like…freshmen, which has suddenly opened the whole Pandora’s Box of Diallo conjecture. Is it time to rush him into the spotlight, like a heroine understudy in a 1930s Busby Berkeley musical?

Lou Gehrig subbing for Wally Pipp’s headache. Tom Brady replacing an injured Drew Bledsoe. Dak Prescott stepping in for Tony Romo.

In other words, I guess: Is the answer to Kentucky’s freshmen problems – another freshman?

Calipari remains adamant, but the swelling tide won’t stop until Kentucky rights the ship – more convincingly than it did against Alabama on Saturday – finishes off the SEC part of its schedule and heads into its still-undetermined fate in the NCAA tournament.

Presuming all that happens without Diallo, the chatter will subside. Until after the tournament. Then it will resume again. Will Diallo go or stay?

Maybe CBS will have a special on that. VT