Late Wednesday night, as the Kansas basketball program packed up its bags and boarded a bus outside the Lahaina Civic Center, coach Bill Self and Cheick Diallo pushed through a doorway and under a black curtain.
Diallo, the freshman forward at the center of an NCAA controversy, had just offered his first public comments since the NCAA earlier in the day cleared him to play college basketball — his first public comments of any sort since early October — and Self was there for a pat on the back and some positive reinforcement.
“Good job, Cheick,” Self said.
In a matter of minutes, Diallo had retraced the melange of emotions from six months spent in NCAA-mandated limbo — the sleepless nights in Lawrence, the anger at the system, the feeling of helplessness as he waited to see whether he would be allowed to play college basketball this season.
“I just (wanted) to let it go, and I wanted to quit because it was getting hard,” Diallo said. “I don't have anything to do if I didn't play this year. I really want to play this year so hard.”
Tuesday night at Allen Fieldhouse, Diallo finally will get his wish. After completing a suspension, levied by the NCAA, of five games for receiving extra benefits — a suspension that upset Self and confused Diallo — the centerpiece of Kansas’ 2015 recruiting class will make his season debut against Loyola (Maryland).
“I can’t wait,” Diallo said.
The news had come on Wednesday morning. Self received word from athletic director Sheahon Zenger at close to 5 a.m. Hawaii time. Then came another text message — a confirmation of sorts — from associate athletic director Sean Lester. Next, the KU staff had to alert Diallo, summoning the freshman to a room in the Westin Maui Resort & Spa.
“I was so nervous, and I was happy at the same time,” Diallo said. “Everybody was texting me and calling me and all saying, ‘We've got great news.’ ”
Diallo said he still had some residual anger from the process. He did not understand why he could not play on Wednesday night, as the Jayhawks claimed a Maui Invitational title in a victory over Vanderbilt.
“I’m kind of mad because I've been suspended for five games,” Diallo said. “I don't even know what I did. I don't even know.”
A few minutes later, Diallo and Self headed for the bus. Diallo had watched a basketball game in street clothes for the final time. And Self expressed gratitude for the Kansas administration, who backed Diallo’s cause and spent more than $100,000 in attorney fees and other resources while fighting for a freshman who has never played a minute.
“That was a pretty expensive deal, just to fight for a young man,” Self said. “He’s going to make us better in time. But it’s the right thing to do, and I thought our university really did the right thing and stepped up to the plate.”