By LARRY VAUGHT
He’s started all 27 games and was considered not only Kentucky’s most athletic player, but likely its best player going into the season.
Hamidou Diallo is averaging 11.1 points and 4.0 rebounds per game. But he’s shooting only 42 percent overall from the field and just 30 percent from 3-point range.
In recent games, his offensive numbers have been even worse. In the last six games, he’s 1-for-11 from 3-point range and is shooting only 30 percent overall from the field. He’s also had nine turnovers and just one assist.
Saturday against Alabama, he did not play the final 5 minutes, 12 seconds when UK outscored Alabama by eight points and ended up winning by 10.
Diallo, a redshirt freshman, is averaging 26 minutes per game but has played 21 or less minutes in the last six games. Against Alabama, he played just 15 minutes after getting only 16 in the previous game against Auburn.
Calipari has show unusual patience with Diallo, who is just 5-for-26 from 3-point range in SEC play. He tried to explain why after the win over Alabama.
“So let’s think about, it’s your son, and he’s struggling. It’s your son now, not somebody else’s son, your son. Would you want me to just bench him and say, we’ll worry about it next year? That’s what you’d want me to do with your son,” Calipari said.
“I would say, you’d say: Hey, coach, he’s responsible for himself but please keep coaching him and let him know you love him and keep being there for him but hold him accountable. If he’s not going to listen to you, you should not play him.
“That’s what I think a parent, who is not trying to enable their son; who says, well, he takes him out, if you didn’t take him out, he takes you out — that parent is killing their son versus making them be responsible for who they are.
“In his case, I’m with Hami. He’s trying. He’s working. He’s got some habits that are so bad, and they are habits; that they pop out sometimes at the wrong time. My job is to make sure he’s not hurting the team — ready for this — or himself, and to keep working with him. But when I go in my office at 10 o’clock at night or 11, I’d better see him in there every once in a while, and you know what, I am.
“Now, if he’s willing to do that and put in extra time and extra work, I’m for him. Now, if you’re playing all of, I may not play you as much. But I’m going to play you, and if you are doing what we’re asking you to do, I’m going to encourage you. That is someone’s son, just like the others. Now, it would probably be easier when a guy plays poorly, just say you’re out and I’m going with these seven.
“I’m just not going to do that. I’m just not.”
I don’t see practice. Kentucky fans don’t see practice. But I think we can all relate to what Calipari is saying. Of course, Sacha Killeya-Jones might not. He’s averaging just 11.4 minutes per game. He played five minutes against Alabama. He did not play the game before at Auburn. He played just five minutes in a home loss to Tennessee.
He’s had to deal with the death of his grandfather a few weeks ago, but when he has played both his effort and efficiency have seemed solid. Again, I don’t know what happens in practice or late-nigh workouts.
Maybe Calipari just sees a higher upside for Diallo. Maybe it’s because of the shortage of guards UK has that Calipari knows Diallo has to play where the return of Jarred Vanderbilt has cut into Killeya-Jones’ minutes.
“I’m the one that’s buying time for guys which may be costing us some games but I’m going to continue to do it. I told you when I walked in the door, this is going to be about the players first, and I’m trying to stay that course,” Calipari said Saturday.
“But, they are responsible for themselves. If they can’t perform, I’m going to play you but when you’re not performing, you can’t be in there. I mean, it’s pretty simple.”