Cheick Diallo isn't a typical five-star recruit. He wasn't identified as a potential basketball prodigy before junior high and he won't enter college basketball next season hunting his own shot. Instead, the 6'9 power forward ranked as the No. 7 prospect in the class of 2015 by ESPN will make his name doing the dirty work.
Five years ago, Diallo had never picked up a basketball. He was living in the West African republic of Mali and didn't speak any English. He left behind his family to come to Long Island's Our Savior New American School in February of 2012 hoping to learn the game and the culture.
Over the next few years, Diallo would develop into defensive terror capable of causing havoc all over the court. He has the length (7'3 wingspan) and foot speed to defend on the perimeter or inside. Everyone who watches him agrees his best attribute might be his nonstop motor.
Diallo isn't the most refined scorer, but he's still able to make an impact offensively on cuts, put-backs and hustle plays. He proved it by winning MVP at the McDonald's All-American Game (18 points and 10 rebounds) and then taking home East team MVP honors at the Jordan Brand Classic (26 points and 11 rebounds).
Diallo's list is down to five. He's set to choose between St. John's, Kentucky, Kansas, Pitt and Iowa State after taking in-home meetings with each school over the last week. Here's a look at how Diallo would fit into each of the five schools he's choosing from.
St. John's has had the inside track on Diallo's recruitment for years. When he arrived at Our Savior New American, he spent his time at practice being mentored by Chris Obpeka, the 6'10 shot blocking big man set to return to St. John's next year for his senior season.
Steve Lavin and St. John's parted ways after going 21-12 and reached the NCAA Tournament as a No. 9 seed this past season, but the goal for new coach Chris Mullin remains the same: Get Diallo at any cost possible. Mullin went far enough to hire assistant coach Matt Abdelmassih away from Iowa State, where he was the Cyclones' lead recruiter of Diallo.
Fit-wise, Diallo would be perfect at St. John's. He'd slide in at power forward next to Obpeka to form one of the most intimidating defensive front lines in the country. Rysheed Jordan is back for his junior season and would be the team's primary scorer, but there will still be offensive opportunities for Diallo on a team losing three of its top four scorers last season to graduation.
Unfortunately for St. John's, it appears that they're losing momentum with Diallo:
.@Jhawk0505 I'm not hearing positive things about St. John's chances to land Cheick Diallo.— Jerry Meyer (@jerrymeyer247) April 20, 2015
The Johnnies have been the favorites all along, so there's no point in writing them off yet. Between staying in New York, joining former teammate Obpeka and the connection with Abdelmassih, there's still plenty of reasons to like St. John's chances.
Here's what we know about the Wildcats: They lost their top seven scorers from last year, currently have a three-man recruiting class coming in and are doing anything they can right now to add talent for next season. Diallo is at the top of their wish list alongside shooting guard Malik Newman.
Right now, the starting front court would seem to project as five-star freshman Skal Labissiere at center and returning senior Alex Poythress at power forward. There's also junior-to-be Marcus Lee, who has been patiently waiting for his shot on the fringe of John Calipari's rotation over the last two years. There isn't much proven depth beyond that, so Diallo would make it a four-man front court rotation (with Poythress also logging some minutes at the three) should he decide to go to Lexington.
With Labissiere, sophomore-to-be Tyler Ulis and freshman Isaiah Briscoe, the Wildcats shouldn't be lacking firepower. It would allow Diallo to serve as a jack-of-all-trades on both sides of the ball, picking his spots to attack on either side of the ball.
There's also the issue of potential eligibility problems for Labissiere. If the NCAA doesn't clear him, Kentucky's front court will look very thin without Diallo.
At this point, Calipari's track record speaks for itself. All he does is win games and send his players to the NBA. For that reason, you can never rule out UK.
The Jayhawks are losing Cliff Alexander in the front court and Kelly Oubre on the wing to the NBA, but this is still one of the deepest rosters in the country. Kansas already has an experienced big man rotation of seniors-to-be Perry Ellis and Jamari Traylor, along with incoming junior Landen Lucas. The perimeter is loaded as well with Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, Wayne Selden and Brannen Greene on the wing and Frank Mason and Devonte Graham at point.
Perhaps because they have so much experience, the Jayhawks have had a relatively quiet season on the recruiting trail, especially by Bill Self's standards. Self has a commitment from another five-star power forward, Ohio native Carlton Bragg. There might not be a ton of playing time to go around.
With that being said, if Diallo buys in to Self's system in a way Alexander never did, his nonstop motor should endear him to the coach quickly. With Diallo, this is likely the deepest front court in America.
The Cyclones have a deep and experienced team already coming back next year. There's Monte Morris as point guard, shooters Matt Thomas and Naz Long on the wing, small forward Georges Niang coming back for his senior year and Jameel McKay at center.
Now imagine throwing in a five-star power forward like Diallo into the equation.
The fit in Ames appears to be seamless, but there's a few reasons to doubt Diallo ends up there. For one, Abdelmassih is gone. Fred Hoiberg has also never landed a recruit of Diallo's caliber. There's still the possibility Hoiberg jumps to the NBA, too.
Still, Iowa State makes a lot of sense on paper. If Diallo ends up there, it should be a top-five team preseason.
The Panthers are the biggest long shot in the mix. Jamie Dixon already has one top-100 player wrapped up in point guard Damon Wilson Jr. With Michael Young and Jamel Artis returning, Pitt should be able to build off a 19-15 season last year.
Adding Diallo would change the trajectory of Pitt's entire season. For now, we'll believe it when we see it.