MESSIER: Mamadi Diakite jumps into his role
Announcers for future Virginia men’s basketball games may want to learn how to pronounce redshirt freshman forward Mamadi Diakite’s name.
That’s because the Guinea, Africa native has literally made leaps and bounds in Virginia’s last five games.
It’s pronounced mama-DEE, dee-ah-KEE-tay, by the way.
Diakite attended Blue Ridge School in St. George, Va. for two years after moving to the United States. He averaged 12 points, eight rebounds and four blocked shots in his final high school season. After forgoing his senior year of high school, Diakite took a redshirt season last year at Virginia — watching while Anthony Gill and now-junior Isaiah Wilkins manned the forward positions.
This season was supposed to be another year of development for the 6-foot-9 forward, but the past weeks have brought about a turn of events. After coach Tony Bennett dismissed junior forward Austin Nichols for a violation of team rules, many wondered what the loss would mean for Virginia’s already young roster, which lost four key players to graduation. With Nichols’ dismissal, however, came the opportunity for Diakite to jump into the mix and prove himself as a young forward, and he hasn’t wasted any time doing so.
Diakite debuted as a Cavalier against St. Francis Brooklyn Nov. 15, when Virginia fans got the first look at his athletic ability as he tallied eight points and four rebounds off the bench.
Against Yale last Sunday, Diakite tallied four blocks along with five points and seven rebounds.
“You just don’t find quick jumpers … and that’s huge because defensively, you cannot be in perfect position every time,” Bennett said. “If you have a guy behind that can block some shots and clean up some things then that’s good.”
Diakite has quickly become a Cavalier fan favorite, as the crowd at John Paul Jones Arena has responded enthusiastically to his impressive blocked shots through two home appearances. His ability to leap over opposing players while blocking shots and collecting rebounds is hard to beat. His athletic ability is also unrivaled by former Virginia players, including Dallas Maverick Justin Anderson, according to senior point guard London Perrantes.
“I don’t think Justin’s athletic ability compares to Mamadi’s. Mamadi’s is through the roof,” Perrantes said. “We see some stuff in practice that is just unreal, and we sometimes have to stop practice to double take and think about what he just did.”
Diakite’s ability didn’t let up in the Cavaliers’ most recent games. The redshirt freshman continued to post impressive stat lines. He played consistently against Grambling State, recording eight points off the bench, four rebounds and three blocked shots. Diakite can back up the defense with his ability to block would-be points for opposing teams.
“When we do have a breakdown, we’ve had some nice shot blocks,” Bennett said. “As the competition continues to step up, that will be tested.”
Virginia’s competition did continue to step up going into the weekend in the Emerald Coast Classic, and so did Diakite.
First on the slate was Iowa. The stifling Cavalier defense kept the Hawkeyes, who had averaged 96.2 points before Friday’s game, to just 41 points. Once again, an instrumental part of that defense was Diakite. He tallied four rebounds and added two blocked shots in just 16 minutes of play.
Against Providence in the championship game Saturday, Diakite had a career-best outing, scoring 10 points. Diakite also tacked on three blocked shots to help lead Virginia to a 63-52 victory.
However, while adding onto the score is important for Diakite, it’s his defensive ability that he values most.
“I think the team needed me to step up and block more shots,” Diakite said. “It is more exciting to me to block people, better than scoring. Scoring, that comes along with time, so I am not really worrying about whether I have five, two, one point or zero points in a game. It is okay as long as I play defense and I can contribute for the team to win, that would be of great satisfaction to me.”
As long as Diakite keeps it up, he is sure to find more satisfaction playing defense while causing the JPJ crowd to roar after witnessing his impressive blocked shots. The addition of his raw talent to the defense is one of the reasons why Virginia finds itself sitting at 6-0, and has kept four of those opponents to less than 42 points.
As if that wasn’t enough, the prospect of his development with increased playing time this season is something that should cause Cavalier fans to get even more excited.