This Is Kentucky Basketball (March 19)

Five-star shooting guard Hamidou Diallo, who has yet to play a game for the University of Kentucky, entered his name in the NBA Draft on Sunday.

Diallo — a 6-foot-5 player from Queens, N.Y. — joined the UK team in January, enrolling in college classes for the spring semester and practicing with the team over the final three months of the season.

He was eligible to play with the Wildcats, but he did not appear in a game. He graduated from high school last spring and his age — Diallo turns 19 in July — makes him eligible to be selected in this year’s NBA Draft.

Diallo has not yet hired an agent, so he will have until May 24 to remove his name from the draft and return to Kentucky for his freshman season, if that’s what he ultimately chooses to do.

“Playing in the NBA has always been the ultimate goal for me,” Diallo said. “It’s part of what makes Kentucky so special is that it prepares you for the next level better than anywhere else. When I decided to enroll in school in January, my plan was to come to Kentucky to work on my game and to focus on school. At the end of the season, I knew I wanted to see where I was in the draft process and go through that so I could get a proper evaluation.

“That plan hasn’t changed and that’s why I am declaring for the NBA Draft. I do not plan on hiring an agent at this time. I want to see where my game is and explore my options. I just want to keep all doors open, and I want to thank Coach Cal, the coaching staff and my teammates for allowing me to pursue my dreams. My game has grown so much in the four months I’ve been at UK.” does not currently project him as a selection in this year’s draft. Diallo is the No. 22 pick in’s mock draft for 2018.

According to the final rankings, Diallo is the No. 1 shooting guard and No. 10 overall prospect in the class of 2017. He’s an explosive offensive player who excels at getting to the basket, rebounds well for his position and projects as a possible elite-level defender at the college level.

Diallo’s shortcoming so far in his young basketball career has been his outside shot. He was a 20-percent shooter from three-point range on the Nike circuit last summer, and his high school stats weren’t much better.

As a practice player at UK this winter, he showed improvement in that area.

“The main concern with Hami coming in — when I started hearing people’s opinion on him — was his shooting ability,” Derek Willis told the Herald-Leader in March. “And that’s taken off for sure. Him working with Kenny Payne and the rest of our coaching staff, they’ve helped him tremendously on that. He’s definitely shooting a lot better since he’s been here.”

An improved jumper would likely make Diallo a first-round pick in this year’s draft, but NBA teams will only get to see him in combine and individual workout settings, not actual games.

Diallo has also been adamant in recent months that he intends to play college basketball — not just practice with the Cats — before getting his NBA career started. He’s a close friend of incoming point guard Quade Green and has expressed a desire to play alongside him next season.

“I don’t know what the next few weeks are going to have in store for me, but I do know I’m going to work as hard as I ever have and keep an open mind,” Diallo said. “At the end of the day, this is a learning process for me and I appreciate the Big Blue Nation for being both understanding and supportive of my decision. I can’t thank you enough for making me a part of the family from day one.”

UK has already lost every scholarship player from this past season’s backcourt. The Cats have Green, four-star point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and four-star combo guard Jemarl Baker coming in to join Diallo, if he stays for his freshman year.

UK is also still recruiting four-star combo guard Mark Smith and is on the list of finalists for Pittsburgh graduate transfer Cameron Johnson, a 6-8 shooting guard who will have two seasons of immediate eligibility at his next school.

Three underclassmen guards from this past season’s team — Isaiah Briscoe, De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk — have all entered the NBA Draft and will sign with agents.

Bam Adebayo has not yet signed with an agent, and, like Diallo, will have until May 24 to withdraw his name from the draft and return to UK.

“With the information that will be available to Hami and the feedback he will receive by going through this process, I fully support his decision,” Calipari said. “It’s in Hami’s best interests to evaluate if now is his time or if he would be better served returning to school. Whatever Hami ultimately chooses to do, you’re talking about an athletic guard with great ball skills, an unbelievable finisher and a terrific defender. He’s gotten so much better in his four months with us and he’s only going to continue to get better.”

Ben Roberts: 859-231-3216, @BenRobertsHL

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