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Mamadi Diakite returning to UVA for senior season

Mamadi Diakite is returning for his senior season at UVA, after making Cavaliers fans wait out a long night in advance of the 11:59 p.m. May 29 deadline to declare his intentions.

“I am excited to announce that after testing the waters and getting great exposure and encouraging feedback, I have decided to return to the University of Virginia for my senior year. I can’t wait to join my coaches and teammates and get to work as we try to win another one,” was the message from Diakite, a 6’9” forward, who had submitted his name to the NBA Draft pool last month in the days following Virginia’s run to the 2019 NCAA championship.

He averaged 7.4 points and 4.4 rebounds in 21.8 minutes per game in 2018-2019 at Virginia, but stepped it up in the 2019 NCAA Tournament, averaging 10.5 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game during the Cavaliers’ title run.

Most memorably, Diakite hit a short jumper at the buzzer of UVA’s Elite Eight game against Purdue that sent that contest to an overtime period, ahead of the Virginia win that landed the program in its first Final Four in 35 years.

Diakite was one of four members of the NCAA championship team to declare early for the draft – alongside expected lottery pick De’Andre Hunter, projected late-first-round pick Ty Jerome, and Kyle Guy, whose draft stock is rising, with some mock drafts now having him going in the second round.

Diakite had not been getting that kind of love on the draft circuit. He did get an invite to the G League Elite Camp, but struggled there, averaging 4.0 points and 1.5 rebounds in 19 minutes per game, shooting 17.6 percent (3-of-17) from the floor and 0-of-3 from three-point range, in two camp scrimmages.

Ten players from the camp received invitations to the NBA Draft Combine, but Diakite was not among them.

His return to Virginia for 2019-2020 provides a nice foundational element for coach Tony Bennett, who will be able to build around Diakite in his frontcourt rotation, alongside 7’1” redshirt junior Jay Huff, 7’0” redshirt freshman Francisco Caffaro, a four-star recruit in the class of 2018 who redshirted this past season, and 6’11” recruit Kadin Shedrick, another four-star incoming freshman.

Even with the losses of Hunter, Jerome and Guy in the backcourt, Bennett will have a solid group to man the three guard spots, with Kihei Clark, who started most of the season, and played 33 minutes per game in the NCAA Tournament, alongside JUCO All-American transfer Tomas Woldetensae, four-star recruit Casey Morsell, Braxton Key, a four-star recruit coming out of high school, and somebody from among rising sophomore Kody Stattman, Francesco Badocchi and incoming three-star freshman recruit Justin McKoy emerging to get rotation minutes.

Story by Chris Graham