Late in Kansas’ season — when forward Cheick Diallo was mostly relegated to the bench — KU coach Bill Self talked often about the freshman getting the “last laugh.”
This, apparently, is what he meant. In the weeks leading up to the NBA Draft, Diallo has rocketed up mock draft boards after a strong showing at the combine.
“It’s great,” Self said. “I think everybody that we’ve talked to has been very impressed with him athletically, pleasantly surprised with his skill-set and certainly have found out what we’ve always known: that he’s a terrific kid.”
Diallo is one of four KU players with a chance to get selected in the NBA Draft, which starts at 6 p.m. Thursday on ESPN.
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Wayne Selden, Perry Ellis and Brannen Greene all could be picked in the second round, while Diallo seems like a near-lock for the first. DraftExpress has Diallo going to Detroit with the 21st pick, while NBAdraft.net has Atlanta selecting him at No. 21.
“When people are drafting him like they do a lot of guys, at least from my understanding, they draft so much where he’s going to project out to be two or three or four years down the road,” Self said. “Certainly, he’d have to have one of the higher ceilings of anybody in the draft when you look at it down the road.”
Selden, who declared for the draft after his junior season, appears to be the next-most likely Jayhawk to be taken. He averaged 13.8 points while making 39 percent of his three-point attempts last season.
“I’ve actually heard in a couple workouts that he looks good,” Self said. “I think so much of the deal depends on how he shoots it that workout. But people tell me he looks good and competitive.”
Selden sat out of drills at the draft combine after undergoing offseason knee surgery.
Ellis is an interesting case study after a productive four-year career at KU. The second-team All-America selection worked out for 11 NBA teams while trying to prove he can play both the 3 and 4 positions.
One thing that’s helped has been his shooting. During one workout, he made 68 of 100 three-pointers.
“I think he’s pleasantly surprised some people,” Self said, “with how well he shoots it with NBA range.”
Selden and Ellis were contacted by The Star and declined comment until after the draft is completed.
Greene is a wild card following an inconsistent three-year KU career. He has one standout skill — outside shooting — though he’s also a player that has struggled defensively.
“Apparently, he had a couple workouts where he was by far the best they had seen coming in shooting the ball,” Self said. “Six-7, good up-and-down athlete and can really shoot. I think somebody’s going to take him.”
Self is quick to point out, though, that a late second-round selection isn’t always best for a player. He uses the example of Tarik Black, who was able to select a good situation for himself after going undrafted in 2014. He picked the Houston Rockets — a team that had a need for a big man — and played in 25 games before getting claimed off waivers by the Los Angeles Lakers.
“A lot of times, it’s actually more beneficial so they can pick and choose where they go as opposed to being locked in,” Self said of being undrafted. “Kids don’t understand that. Fans don’t understand that. Because if you get drafted by a team with 12 guaranteed deals, it’s hard to make a team.
“But I think all four are going to be on NBA rosters next year.”
That includes Diallo, who has the opportunity to make good on his NBA dream after averaging 7.5 minutes at KU.
“We said all along he’d get the last laugh on everybody,” Self said. “I think he will.”