Diakite stepping into bigger role as ACC season begins

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 SPORTS) -- Every year, there is a lot made of length and athleticism of players in the ACC. With the Virginia men's basketball team opening conference play Saturday, there's one player that fits that bill stepping into a larger role.

Mamadi Diakite started just one game in his two seasons with the Cavaliers prior to this season. He started his first game of the season against Coppin State in place of an injured Jack Salt. The junior forward started the next two games as well.

"Whether I come off the bench or I start," Diakite said, "it doesn't matter to me right now."

After four games coming off the bench, Diakite moved back into the starting lineup at South Carolina, scoring 10 points in 22 minutes. In the next game, against William and Mary, Diakite was again in the starting lineup, playing a season-high 25 minutes.

On New Year's Eve, Diakite started his third straight game, and his sixth of the season, playing 21 minutes for the fourth straight game.

"I think he's simplified and playing as hard as he can, as continuous as he can," said Virginia head coach Tony Bennett. "His athleticism and length will be important as we head into conference play and obviously the size and length of the players.

"I'm just trying to be able to impact the game for the team," Diakite added, "and get them to a place where they've never been before."

Fellow big man Jay Huff remembered a recent practice where he saw something change in Diakite.

"There was a practice and he just was dunking everything and we were kind of like oh my gosh," Huff said. "What happened?

"Its been really cool to watch," he added. "Its exciting. We're proud of him, we're excited for him and I think its great."

The Cavaliers host Florida State at 3:00 Saturday afternoon.