Every great defense needs a great shot blocker. For Virginia and its No. 3 efficiency defense per Ken Pomeroy, that swatter is junior center Mamadi Diakite. The 6-foot-9, 228-pounder blocks 1.5 shots a game and boasts the nation’s No. 29 block rate at 9.2 percent of all shots.
He’s a capable scorer, as well, averaging 7.3 points per game, mostly off offensive rebounds (4.2 total rebounds per contest).
While he’s a graduate of Blue Ridge High School in Dyke (Va.), he’s an international player. He hails from the city of Conakry, the capital city of Guinea on the west coast of Africa. As many youngsters outside the United States, Diakite first played soccer.
Per UVA Today, his raw talent in basketball led to his move to Blue Ridge. The transition, Diakite said, was tough.
It was an exciting, but tough transition for the young player, who is the youngest of four siblings. His parents and most of his family still live in Guinea. Though he was thrilled with the opportunities the U.S. offered – including the chance to play for a program like UVA – he missed home.
“Guinea is very different from here. It’s a Third World country, as they say,” Diakite said. “To me, it is a great country. That is where I am from, where I grew up. People are very social, even if there is a lot of poverty.”
According to Caroline Darney at SB Nation’s Streaking the Lawn, Mamadi can speak English, French, Malinke, Soussou and Peul.
His performance at Blue Ridge earned him a 5-star rating per 247 Sports. He committed to Tony Bennett and the Cavaliers over offers from Southern Cal and Washington. Per 247 Sports:
Diakite, who is rated five-stars by 247Sports, joins a trio of four-star pledges; Indianapolis (Ind.) Lawrence Central guard Kyle Guy, New Rochelle (N.Y.) Iona Prep guard Ty Jerome, and Durham (N.C.) Voyager Academy forward Jay Huff.
What’s With Mamadi Diakite’s Blonde Hair?
Prior to a win over Louisville back in late February, Diakite dyed his hair blonde. He said to NBC29 that the style goes back to his soccer days in Guinea.
His mother apparently wasn’t crazy about the look.
“The first words she said was, ‘What have you done to yourself?’ after I sent her a picture of myself,” said Diakite to NBC29. “I told her, ‘Oh that’s the new look here, in America,’ and she said, ‘Oh really? Ok, no more B.S.’ I said, ‘Ok, cool.'”
Coach Tony Bennett didn’t seem to mind. In the 64-52 victory over the Cardinals, Diakite scored 14 points and blocked 3 shots.
With that type of production, Bennett can’t complain about a little fashion statement. As long as it doesn’t get in the way of Virginia’s first Final Four appearance since 1984.
Cavaliers play Purdue in the South Regional final Saturday night in Louisville (8:49 p.m. EST, TBS).