An off-season of growth for UVA's Diakite

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 SPORTS) -- Mamadi Diakite's hair is still blonde, and it has grown out a bit since Virginia's overtime win against Texas Tech in April's NCAA championship game.

After testing his NBA Draft stock before ultimately returning for his fifth season at UVA, Diakite believes his game has grown this off-season as well.

"I wish the season was starting tomorrow," Diakite said. "I'm ready for it, with how much knowledge I've gained from the process, and from talking to teams. Just going through the process basically, has helped me so much, and I want to put that to the test."

The Blue Ridge School graduate declared for the 2019 NBA Draft about a week after the Wahoos won the program's first national championship. The 6-9 forward competed the G League Elite Camp, but didn't earn an invitation to the NBA combine. After working out for a few teams -- and waiting until the final minutes before the May 29 deadline -- Diakite announced he was returning to UVA for another season.

"I thought it was better for me to come back, because next year would have been a better chance for me to go higher," he explained. "I learned many things. I learned where was my sweet spot, what I needed to do in order to get to that level. And so coming back here, that's what I've been more focused on."

Diakite averaged 7.4 points and 4.4 rebounds with a team-high 61 blocks for the Wahoos last season. Those averages were raised by the 10.5 points and 8.2 rebounds per game Diakite put up during UVA's NCAA championship run.

Diakite says he's about 15 pounds bigger than he was during the pre-draft process, and feels more explosive and more in control of his body. He says he's one of the 25 elite college players invited to next month's Nike Basketball Academy in Los Angeles.

"I know I need to come with the same energy defensively, and offensively, trust myself more. And trust my teammates," he said. "And make sure I come with leadership, a certain type of leadership because I know that this team needs it."

Diakite also understands his place in Virginia basketball history after his role in helping the Wahoos win the program's first national title. And he's not afraid to set a high bar heading into his final season at the school.

"What happened last year, I won't say I forgot about that. It's something that's in the history, and it will always be there," Diakite said. "I'm trying to achieve something with this team that has never been achieved before. And I'm talking about maybe a better season than last year."

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