Early returns strong for UVA's Diakite

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 SPORTS) -- Vermont coach John Becker got a first-hand look at the new-and-improved Mamadi Diakite on Tuesday night at John Paul Jones Arena.

"He's a really good player. A really good player,' Becker said following Diakite's 19-point, six-rebound performance in Virginia's 61-55 win against the Catamounts. "Probably an NBA player."

After helping the Wahoos win an NCAA title last spring, Diakite returned to UVA for a fifth season with expectations of taking a leading role on the floor. Through four games, the Blue Ridge School product has looked the part.

Diakite broke the 16-point mark just three times in his first three seasons, all as a redshirt junior last year. He's averaging a team-best 15.8 points this season, including a career-high 19 points against James Madison 10 days ago -- a mark he matched against the Catamounts on Tuesday night.

Diakite has shot 51 percent through four games, leading the Wahoos in both field goals (26) and attempts (51). He's made 62.5 percent of his 3-point attempts -- and his five 3-pointers made matches his total from last season.

When asked after Tuesday's win about his increased production this season, Diakite pointed out that UVA didn't exactly need another 3-point shooter last year.

"I was telling Kyle Guy myself. You all can ask him. 'Yo, I'll go screen for you. If you don't shoot it, I'll fight you after the game,'" Diakite recalled, drawing laughs from the gathered media. "It was basically, he knew, it was a joke, but he knew what I meant."

"But as I evolved. I learned things outside of here, and in here," Diakite added, referring to his time going through the NBA Draft process and at the Nike Basketball Academy in the off-season. "I just added some stuff to my game."

Diakite is third on the Cavaliers in minutes (29.8 per game) and blocked shots (4), second on the team in rebounding (8.3) and tied for second in steals (4) early this season. Those per-game averages in minutes and rebounding are both career bests. Diakite has also picked up just one personal foul in each of UVA's four games.

"He has to continue to stay within himself but stay aggressive, and just lock in," said UVA head coach Tony Bennett. "We need his ability to do things, and just sound and tough. And let your play do the talking. That's the best way. Play with passion, but remain humble, and let your play do the talking. I think that's really important."

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