The confetti has been swept up. The 2019 NBA Draft declarations have been made. The churn of college basketball is never-ending, and the defending NCAA champion — Virginia — is not exempt. Things are changing in Charlottesville, where much of the core of this past season’s magical national title run is moving on.
Guards Ty Jerome, De’Andre Hunter and Kyle Guy have all declared for the 2019 NBA Draft and will not be returning. Center Jack Salt’s eligibility has expired, and guard Marco Anthony has transferred to Utah State.
The Cavaliers will have several new faces next season to fill those holes, but over the coming weeks, The Daily Progress will take stock of the team’s returning scholarship players, and look ahead to how they can contribute in the future.
» Position: Forward
» Year: Redshirt senior
» 2018-19 averages: 7.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, 1.7 blocks
Diakite hit arguably the most memorable shot in Virginia history, but it’d be remiss to boil the forward’s entire season down to the buzzer-beating jumper that forced overtime in the Elite Eight against Purdue.
He was on the floor in that situation because he had proved to be the Cavaliers’ most productive big man on both ends of the court. Diakite struggled with foul trouble early in the season, but as time wore on, he developed into one of the top shot blockers in the ACC. At one point, he had blocked a shot in 20 consecutive games, the longest such program streak since Ralph Sampson blocked shots in 55 straight games from 1981-83.
Diakite also proved to be a potent scorer in the paint. He scored a career-best 18 points on Nov. 11 against Coppin State and again Jan. 9 at Boston College. He then poured in 17 points in the team’s 71-56 win over Gardner-Webb in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.
In the team’s national championship game win over Texas Tech, Diakite scored nine points to go along with seven rebounds, two blocks and an assist. Late in overtime, he blocked a layup from Jarrett Culver that would’ve tied the game at 75.
Diakite was a Virginia hero by season’s end, but there were growing pains. He was pulled early from the Boston College game due to foul trouble, and again three days later in the team’s win at Clemson. Both times, Coach Tony Bennett raised his voice as Diakite retreated to the bench.
He also struggled in the ACC Tournament, playing just 20 minutes over the two games. He went 1-for-5 from the floor in the team’s semifinals loss to Florida State and didn’t block a shot or bring down a rebound.
Diakite called a quick meeting after the tournament, telling Bennett he’d be ready for a bigger role once the national tournament began. He didn't disappoint.
Diakite declared for the NBA Draft only to announce he had pulled his name out of the pool minutes from the May 29 deadline. The forward did not receive an invite to the NBA Scouting Combine and was not listed in most mock drafts.
His decision to return is good news for UVa fans. The biggest returner from the national championship run, Diakite could have a more vivid role in Bennett’s offense. Losing Guy, Jerome and Hunter means Virginia will need to recalibrate how it plays on the offensive side of the ball, and that might mean playing a more inside/out style.
Diakite will also look to channel the strong defensive play that earned him minutes as last season wore on throughout the coming campaign. Virginia players have won National Defensive Player of the Year honors the past two seasons, and Diakite appears primed to be the team’s most important defender in 2019-20.