by, Pete Janny, Sports Editor
On Thursday, Oct. 13, Manhattan received word from the NCAA that UMass transfer Samba Diallo’s waiver to play this season has been approved. The change of eligibility status for Diallo is the latest positive development in what has been an eventful offseason for the Jaspers.
Diallo was the second of three acquisitions for the Jaspers in the transfer market, joining the likes of Seton Hall transfer Anthony Nelson and George Mason transfer Jason-Douglas Stanley. Diallo announced his commitment to Manhattan in April and almost instantly became a talking point in Manhattan basketball discourse as a player whose development has been well-documented since his days at Pope John XXIII High School in Sparta, N.J.
Originally from Senegal, Diallo first came to the states for his sophomore year of high school when he settled in with a host family. During his time at Pope John XXII, he emerged as an exciting prospect with his imposing 6-7’ frame, garnering interest from notable programs such as Virginia, Rutgers, and a host of A-10 schools including UMass. However, after tearing his ACL his senior year, Diallo’s future became unclear and many schools turned their attention away from the humble forward.
Yet he wasn’t going to let the injury and adversity define his basketball career.
Ultimately, Diallo decided to take his talents to UMass, where he played for two seasons in Amherst. After posting 3.5 points-per-game and 3.3 rebounds-per-game in 17.0 minutes-per-game as a freshman, he elevated his game this past year contributing 6.7 points-per-game and 5.9 rebounds-per-game, while also registering 10 double-figure scoring performances and three double-double outputs. All in all, Diallo led the Minutemen to 25 wins in his two seasons there, with 14 of those coming this past season.
His departure from the program was a big loss for UMass — who has become the subject of NCAA penalties handed to them the other day for financial aid violations linked to their men’s basketball and women’s tennis programs. As a result, the men’s basketball program had 59 wins vacated from their record as part of a punishment that many officials around college sports believe is harsher than deserved. UMass plans to appeal the punishment, arguing they were not aware of their misconduct, which is said to have lasted from 2014 to 2017, according to the Boston Globe. Ever since the school self-reported their own financial aid missteps in the spring of 2017 — around the same time men’s basketball coach Derek Kellog was fired — the NCAA has kept close tabs on UMass athletics, having interviewed coaches, student-athletes and staff members.
Although Diallo wasn’t at the school during the period of transgressions, it’s unknown if the current situation the UMass basketball program faces factored into his decision to leave. Had Diallo stayed, he would have been part of a program facing probation for the next two years.
“It wasn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be because I got the help from my previous school [UMass] and I still talk to Coach McCall so they made sure the process was easy for me,” Diallo said in regards to the process of transferring schools. “I’m happy I’ll be able to be out there and available for my teammates.”
After Diallo entered the transfer portal in late March, Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello was one of the first coaches to contact him. The player and coach had previously developed a relationship back when Diallo was in high school, but neither could have predicted their paths would cross again. As an experienced Division I player, Diallo projects to be a good fit in Masiello’s system as a player who possesses both maturity and tremendous raw talent.
“It’s been great and we talk pretty much every day,” Diallo said in regards to his relationship with Masiello. “I’m a pretty easy going guy and I like to talk with people. Not just basketball, because there is a lot more to it and just life in general. It’s good to have that person right by your side who believes in you and puts your interests first. “
Masiello has big plans for Diallo as he attempts to get all his new players acclimated to the program’s system. He liked what he saw from him at UMass, and is confident Diallo can take his game to the next level at Manhattan. The addition of Diallo and other newcomers will have a large say in Manhattan’s quest for their first MAAC Championship since 2015.
“I think more than anything his role with us is going to be different than what he’s used to in that for us his role will expand and he will be a real impact guy for us at Manhattan,” Masiello said. “He was looking for a different situation and we’re hoping we can give him that and we hope that can help lead to victories.”
Having all arrived at the same time, Diallo, Douglas-Stanley, and Nelson know exactly why their journeys have converged in Riverdale. The plan is to rack up a lot of wins, and in the process get Manhattan back to being a giant in the MAAC.
“We are here for a reason and one reason only, which is to win,” Diallo said of him and his fellow transfers. “We always talk about how much we want to win and how much we want to take this program to where it needs to be.”
When Diallo does take the court for the first time in a Manhattan uniform, it will come as part of an unprecedented season that will be without fans until Dec. 23 at the earliest due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. To boot, Diallo and his teammates will enter the fray of the MAAC season earlier than normal with the men’s circuit starting on Dec. 8 after only roughly a week and a half of non-conference play. The 20-game conference schedule will be a test of every team’s mental endurance more than anything else — coronavirus testing will be held three times a week on top of all the traveling they will have to do. Diallo is ready for anything, though, because the return of college basketball will allow him to live out his dream once again.
“I think we’ve all experienced having the chance to do what you love every single day and never once thinking you won’t be able to do it. I think that everybody lost that because of COVID so it just makes us be aware and be grateful for a lot of things.”