Bill Self is still waiting for word from the NCAA on the academic eligibility of freshman big man Cheick Diallo, a McDonald’s All-American who was expected to bolster the Kansas men’s basketball frontcourt in 2015-16. But after getting his first look at Diallo during preseason workouts, let’s just say Self came away impressed.
“We’ve never had a big guy that can run like this,” Self said Monday, while appearing at an annual golf tournament fundraiser for the Boy Scouts at Lawrence Country Club.
The particulars of Diallo’s eligibility case have remained elusive, but Self shed some light on the issue on Monday, reiterating that he remained “confident” Diallo would be cleared through the NCAA’s Eligibility Center. The academic issue, as The Star previous reported, centers on Diallo’s time at Our Savior New American, a private high school in Centereach, N.Y., that is currently being reviewed and evaluated by the NCAA.
“It’s been misreported a lot that it’s been good news, bad news,” Self said. “There hasn’t been any news, because the NCAA hasn’t told us ‘no’ on Cheick. They haven’t told us ‘yes,’ but also, we haven’t wanted them to tell us anything yet, either, because I think it’s nice to see how things play out with other kids that went to that school. So we (will) have a better angle of what we’re trying to address, then just going in there cold and saying, ‘Here’s your stuff and make a determination.’
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The process, Self says, involves reviewing classes Diallo took at Our Savior New American, where he attended high school for 3 1/2 years after coming over from his home country of Mali to pursue a basketball career. But the cases of some of Diallo’s former high school teammates could set a positive precedent, Self said. Davon Dillard, a freshman at Oklahoma State, was a high school teammate of Diallo’s and has reportedly been cleared by the NCAA. Another former player from Our Savior New American, Kobie Eubanks, was not cleared by the NCAA, though his case was more complicated. Eubanks attended Our Savior for just his senior season and his high school transcripts included stops in Florida and a recent year at Elev8 Sports Institute in Delray Beach, Fla.
Regardless, Self said, each individual case could provide information that could be beneficial to Diallo’s case.
“We want to know what all classes counted for other kids, too,” Self explained. “It’s nervous, because we don’t know. … But I’m confident; I’m confident.”
Self has indicated that the decision could drag into late September or even early October. While Self said the slow process has caused some general uneasiness, he said he understood the nature of the process, especially when it involves a school under review.
“It’s not black and white,” Self said. “When the (NCAA Eligibility Center) or whatever makes a determination that they want to look into a school, they’re looking into the school and not the individual. So now you’ve got … the next step after they determine what they’re going to do with the school, then you got to determine what they’re going to do with the individual and (in) this particular case, we feel confident.”
For the moment, Diallo is enrolled in fall classes and working out with his teammates. An athletic big man with a high motor, Diallo has already made his presence felt during sessions, Self said.
“Cheick forces a pace that nobody has ever forced here,” Self said. “He can create pace better than any point guard we’ve ever had here. Just because the dude, from rim to rim, he’s as good as I’ve seen. I didn’t say (he’s) the best offensive player, but running rim to rim, I think he’ll drag everybody along with him. I also think it forces us to play at a faster pace when your big guys run like that.”
For now, though, it’s just a matter of waiting. And it’s a feeling Self is familiar with. Four years ago, Self waited into the fall while the NCAA ruled on the academic eligibility of Ben McLemore and Jamari Traylor. Each player had to sit out one season after being ruled a partial qualifier. Looking back, Self said, the NCAA made the “right decision” on McLemore.
“There’s no question they did, based on the information that we had afterward,” Self said. “I hate that, because we could have had Ben on that 2012 team, which would have been pretty special. But it was the correct decision.”
At some point, Self will have an answer on Diallo. He’s hoping for better news.
“Other kids are getting cleared from that school, too,” Self said. “But they just haven’t made a determination on Cheick, because they haven’t had his stuff as long as other kids.”