May 4, 2017
By Bill Koch
CINCINNATI -- The addition of 6-foot-9, 205-pound power forward Mamoudou Diarra to the University of Cincinnati's 2017-18 basketball roster provides front-line depth for the Bearcats in 2017-18, but perhaps more importantly it positions them to withstand the departure of starting senior forwards Kyle Washington and Gary Clark after next season.
Diarra joins a recruiting class that includes 6-foot-9, 195-pound forward-center Eliel Nsoseme, 6-foot-5 guard Trevor Moore and 6-foot-5 guard Keith Williams.
Nsoseme and Diarra both are originally from Africa - Nsoseme from Kinsasha, Congo and Diarra from Bamako, Mali. They're the fourth and fifth African-born players to play for the Bearcats since head coach Mick Cronin took over in 2006. The others are Ibrahima Thomas (2010-2011), Cheikh Mbodj (2012-2013) and David Nysaruk (2013-2014).
"We've got two good (big men)," said associate head coach Larry Davis, who recruited Diarra along with Cronin. "Both of those guys are going to come in here and fight for every minute of playing time they can get. That's who they are. But they're coming for the big picture because they know that Gary and Kyle will be out of here after a year."
Diarra originally signed with Washington, but was given his release after the Huskies fired head coach Lorenzo Romar. He visited UC, Missouri and Connecticut. The Bearcats, who had recruited him extensively before he chose Washington, announced his signing earlier this week.
"When he originally came over he went to Prolific Prep Academy in California as a sophomore," Davis said. "He got hurt and didn't play much. He ended up transferring to St. Louis Christian in St. Louis and was there for a year. That's where I first saw him. I really started recruiting him then when he was going into his junior year. I saw him three times as a junior and recruited him that summer hard."
Looking long range, with 6-foot-8 Tre Scott and 6-foot-11 Nysier Brooks also returning from last year's team, the Bearcats will have four players between 6-8 and 6-11 ready to pick up the slack when Washington and Clark are gone.
"It takes the pressure off because in any given (recruiting) year you might go in really needing a big guy and you might strike out on a guy that's really good enough and have to take a lesser guy that you develop that's got a lot less skill," Davis said. "Getting this guy, who's highly skilled, and having him in the fold, with who we're going to lose a year from now, is huge."
Diarra averaged 18.5 points, 10.2 rebounds and 3.2 blocked shots last year playing for 22 Feet Academy in Greenville, South Carolina, a multi-continental basketball academy that partners with Shannon Forest Christian School to educate players and prepare them for a career in college basketball.
"He can really shoot the ball at 15 feet," Davis said. "He can make threes. He can handle the ball. He can shot-fake you and drive it. We loved him because he played so hard. He's a shot blocker. He tries got get every rebound and he's got some offensive skills. He's not a back-to-the-basket guy, but he can score down there. His game is probably like Gary Clark's is now. Gary Clark was more of a center who translated out. I'm not saying he's as good as Gary right this minute, but he's very similar to Gary in terms of his skill set."
Diarra is the latest player to join the UC program after originally signing with another school. Washington transferred to UC after spending his first two seasons at North Carolina State. Guard Cane Broome, the nation's eighth-leading scorer in 2015-16 at Sacred Heart University in Connecticut, transferred to UC last year and is expected to start for the Bearcats next season after sitting out last year under the NCAA's rules for transfers.
The transfer market has become crucial for schools like UC, Davis said, which is why the Bearcats in recent years have held open a scholarship for the spring when they can see who might be available.
"It's important to us because we can probably get a better player than we could if we were going head-to-head with Duke," Davis said, pointing out that SMU forward Semi Ojeleye, the American Athletic Conference Player of the Year in 2016-17, was a transfer from Duke.
"It's a way that we can get probably a higher level player than maybe we could," Davis said, "although that's beginning to change. If we keep winning 30-some games and if we can just get over the hump and make one deep run in the tournament, it won't matter what conference we're in."
The Bearcats were 30-6 last season, becoming the second team in school history to win 30 games. They beat Kansas State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament before losing to UCLA in the second round.
Bill Koch covered UC athletics for 27 years -- 15 at The Cincinnati Post and 12 at The Cincinnati Enquirer -- before joining the staff of GoBearcats.com in January 2015.
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