Dear Coach Bill Self,
It’s time. Jayhawk fans, your fans, rallied around a single cry for the freedom of their highly touted, 5-star prospect after the NCAA prohibited him to lay foot on the hardwood floor of Allen Fieldhouse. “Free Diallo” became a rallying cry for Jayhawk fans everywhere. Students painted the words on their chests and printed the words out on signs, until finally, the NCAA dropped their bans and allowed for the freedom of Cheick Diallo. Every student at KU remembers Diallo’s first game in the Fieldhouse. The crowd grew loud and anxious, as tip off drew closer. Students threw their “Free Diallo” signs out and replaced them with signs that were painted with the words “Free At Last”. Along with 13 points, 3 blocks, and 6 rebounds, Diallo finished a fast break with a scintillating Mail Man-esque dunk that put an exclamation mark on his debut. The following day, every student in Lawrence, Kansas had something to say about their brand new star. It seemed that everyone had something to say about Kansas’ new big man. From the Jayhawk Café to ESPN studios, people sang nothing but words of praise about the Mali-native, Cheick Diallo.
Fast forward two months later and we see that Cheick Diallo is averaging the 5th lowest minutes per game on the entire roster at 8.5. So what went wrong? Analysts point to his lack of experience or his need to become more disciplined defensively. You, Coach Self, pointed to the starters as the reason for why Diallo as lost playing time. After the 77-59 victory over Kansas State in a game that was close until the final minutes, you blamed the veterans and said that “if [the starters] do what they’re capable of doing and what they’re supposed to do, then [Diallo gets] a chance to play.” In that game, Diallo played only 2 minutes in the entire game. How could you have your top prospect sit out basically the entire game and then blame your starters poor play for the reason he sat? Since when does poor play get rewarded with more minutes? Diallo is averaging the second most blocks per game behind Hunter Mickelson, and Diallo is also averaging more points then him also. It is hard to analyze Diallo because of the little time he gets on the court, but when looking at his stats per 40 minutes, he is averaging 15.6 points, 4.3 blocks, and 13.3 rebounds. When Diallo plays in a lineup alongside the Jayhawks star forward, Perry Ellis, the team scores 0.25 more points per possession and also keep their opponents scoring 0.17 fewer points than their average lineup. That is better than any other big man combo on the team. In the single game that Diallo played 20 minutes, he scored 9 points along with 5 blocks and 9 rebounds. In games that he played more than 15 minutes, Diallo averaged 11.3 points, 3 blocks, and 6.3 rebounds. There are facets of his game that Diallo can improve on such as becoming more fluid in the offense and more disciplined on the defensive end, but he cannot do that while riding the bench.
But so what, right? We are ranked 2nd in the NCAA and 1st in the Big 12, so why fix what’s not broken? Here’s why: How does it look to have a top prospect barely cracking the rotation? What high school stars will want to come to a college that doesn’t showcase their freshman? Of course this is not a regular occurrence with the Kansas basketball team (i.e. Kelly Oubre, Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid), but in the upcoming months, the nation’s top recruits decide where they will play college basketball. Names like Josh Jackson, Thon Maker, and Rawle Alkins have yet to decide where they will play their freshman year. Kansas is still on all their lists, but Cheick Diallo’s current situation is reason for them and others to question whether Kansas will be their final choice. Along with that, why would Diallo stay another year at Kansas after getting barely any playing time? The question for most high school prospects is whether to spend a year at school or to go play in an international league, so at the end of his freshman year, would Diallo decide to stay another year or declare for the draft to make money. Diallo is a guarantee to get drafted on his potential alone, and after a year of riding the bench, why wouldn’t he be inclined to declare for the draft?
This is a player that was ranked 7th in his class and 3rd at his position on the ESPN100 ranking. The talent is there. He just needs to be passed the reigns. So pass them to him, Bill. Give him the freedom he needs. He has a motor unlike any other player on our team. When he was forced to sit out, he wasn’t discouraged. He came out with a passion and energy that radiated through Allen Fieldhouse in his first game on the court. It’s an energy that one can count on him to play with each game when given the chance. Cheick Diallo is not a liability to our team; he is the X-factor. His game will impact the defensive and offensive end. On defense, his blocks and presence around the rim will force teams to shoot outside of the paint. On the offensive end, his lively motor will spark fast breaks. Along with that, his wingspan will contribute to his ability to collect offensive rebounds.
March Madness is right around the corner. The college basketball season is nearing its end. Give Cheick a chance to be special. Every student sees the greatness. With each dunk and each offensive board, we see glimmers of what he could be in limited minutes. If he goes this season without playing much and declares for the NBA, 28,000 students will look back at this season wondering what Cheick Diallo could have been. So let him play, Bill. Let him make mistakes and let him fix those mistakes. Allow him to become an unstoppable force among the rest of the Jayhawk team and make a deep run into March. It is time, Coach Self, to free Diallo.
Sincerely, a disheartened KU undergrad
All stats from www.stat-reference.com