The best basketball prospect playing Saturday night on Court 3 at Lawrence Sports Pavilion wasn’t difficult to spot. He was the one calling for the ball and, more often than not, wasn't having it passed to him.
Such is the fate of AAU centers more often than not it seems. They still benefit from the experience because they are defended by talented athletes and must develop ways to get the basketball on their own because they are surrounded by players used to taking most of the shots on their high school teams.
Still, it was easy to determine the player most coveted by college coaches was No. 24, the long, lean athlete who loves to punish the rim with two-handed dunks, runs the floor like a guard, cleanly catches every pass and rebound his hands touch and is easier to push out of the post than he will be once he gets hooked on how the weight room changes the mirror for the better. In pregame warmups, he exhibited a very soft shooting touch. The fact he didn't roam the perimeter looking to use that jumper speaks well to the coaching he's receiving and to him having the maturity to know where he needs to play.
Rivals ranks N’Faly Dante, a native of Mali, No. 4 in the Class of 2020. He is listed at 6-foot-10, 225 pounds and attends Sunrise Christian Academy in Bel Aire.
Dante totaled eight points, nine rebounds and five blocked shots in his team’s close victory against an AAU squad from Colorado.
It’s a dark recruiting period for Division I coaches. Otherwise, John Calipari, Bill Self and other coaches from national powerhouses would have been sitting all in a row under the basket. They would be there not so much to watch Dante, as to be seen by him. To do otherwise would be to risk the perception that you don’t want him as much as the coaches in attendance.
He’s a talented enough prospect that there is no need to see him more than once to know you want him on your team.
Dante plays for MoKan Elite and calls former Kansas one-and-done center Cheick Diallo “my brother.”
“The guy who helped me to come here helped him also, so we’re so close,” Dante said.
Tidiane Drame, whose nickname is “The King of Mali,” became Diallo’s legal guardian and brought him to the United States.
Diallo came to Kansas after winning MVP honors in the McDonald’s All-American game by hustling his way to garbage points and defensive contributions near the hoop in a game that many use to showcase their perimeter shooting and dunking skills.
Surprisingly, once he played for Kansas after a long delay before the NCAA cleared him academically and after looking into his relationship with Drame, Diallo at times seemed to view his time at Kansas as a chance to show off his perimeter touch.
As a result, Diallo averaged just 7.5 minutes in the 27 games in which he played for the Jayhawks.
Drafted by the New Orleans Pelicans in the second round in 2016, Diallo spent most of his rookie season in the NBA’s developmental league, appearing in 17 games for the Pelicans. He played in 52 games for the Pelicans this season, averaging 4.9 points, 4.1 rebounds and 0.4 blocks in 11.2 minutes per game.
Based on the advice Dante said Diallo has given him, it seems that if Diallo had his time at Kansas to do over again, he would focus on becoming better closer to the basket.
“He’s my brother,” Dante said. “I always talk to him. He helps me a lot. He tells me a lot of stuff.”
“He tells me, ‘I know you can drive, but you have to focus on rebounds and blocked shots,’ ” Dante said.
Cleared by the NCAA in all areas, Diallo didn’t make his debut until his sixth game, when he totaled 13 points, six rebounds and three blocked shots against Loyola of Maryland. It stood as his career scoring high and he exceeded the rebound and blocked shot totals from that game just once.
Has he asked Diallo how he liked playing for the coaching staff at Kansas?
“We don’t talk about that stuff,” Dante said. “We talk about my game. He tells me I have to focus on everything, especially rebounding.”
Dante, who played his freshman season at a Christian school in Alabama before transferring to Sunrise Christian in Kansas, attended Late Night in the Phog.
“It was really crazy,” he said. “Everybody was running around. It was fun.”
Kansas, Kentucky and a slew of other schools have offered Dante a scholarship. He said he doesn’t turn 17 until October 19.
“I don’t need to think about that stuff,” he said of weighing scholarship offers. “When you think about that stuff, you’ll be crazy.”
His primary thoughts, he said, lie elsewhere.
“My English is not that good, so I have to focus on school,” Dante said. “My mom, she likes my school better. She likes my basketball, but she wants me to focus on school before that.”
As his English improves, so too will his physique. He said a knee problem prevented him from doing much in the weight room.
“It was hard to focus on both and school,” he said.
Once he naturally fills out and adds muscle from lifting weights, and when he develops a better back-to-the basket game, he has a chance to soar to No. 1 in his class.
"For me I don’t think about that stuff," he said of the rankings. "I want to be better every day. I’m going to work on a lot of stuff this summer, first of all is rebounding. Like boxing out, sometimes I miss on boxing out. And blocked shots.”
If the NBA changes its rules to allow players to come straight out of high school, he’ll be a candidate to make the jump. If the one-and-done structure remains in place, the fact that he’s playing high school basketball in Kansas can only help KU’s chances of landing him.