Wahoos have seen different Diakite this preseason

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 SPORTS) -- When asked at Wednesday's media day where he has has improved since last season, Virginia's Mamadi Diakite began rattling off a variety of aspects to his game.

"I can go on and on," the fifth-year forward said at one point.

After his heroics in last spring's run to UVA's first-ever NCAA championship, Diakite went through parts of the NBA Draft process -- no combine invite, but an appearance at the G League Elite Camp and workouts for a few teams -- before deciding to return for one more college season. In August, Diakite was one of 25 college players invited to the elite Nike Basketball Academy in Los Angeles.

On Wednesday, Diakite said he's been handling the ball more this preseason, and his court vision has improved. He feels he's more effective stretching the floor as an outside shooter. His head coach, Tony Bennett, said the Blue Ridge School product is both a better shooter and scorer than a season ago.

Diakite's teammates say they've seen improvements in other ways.

"I think he's more hungry," UVA sophomore point guard Kihei Clark said Wednesday. "You could tell from the start of the summer. He was sharp from the get-go. He was aggressive. He was talking. He seemed like the veteran that he is."

"I think he gained a lot of basketball IQ," said junior forward Jay Huff. "His one-on-one game improved a lot. Not like he was bad at it, but the way he's improved is pretty easy to see."

Diakite averaged 7.4 points and 4.4 rebounds with a team-high 61 blocks for the Wahoos last season. During the Cavaliers' title run, those numbers improved to 10.5 points and 8.2 rebounds per game.

Bennett says Diakite will get more opportunities on the offensive end this season, especially with UVA losing the top three scorers from last year's team. Bennett also believes Diakite will be "more of a marked man" this year.

"He'll face things this year as a player for UVA that he has not faced in the past," Bennett said. "But I'm excited for him. I think he's worked hard, and he wants to lead this team to the best of his abilities."

When asked about his coach's suggestion of being a 'marked man," Diakite's eyes lit up.

"How much I'm looking into stepping into that role?" he said. "I'm ready right now. I love challenges."

"A real man needs a challenge," Diakite added. "He needs to be able to overcome those challenges, in order to graduate or to take another step forward."

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