The red 22 on the back of his navy blue practice jersey pops as he struts backwards onto the court. He turns around and grins from ear to ear.
Before any of Boubacar Diakite’s teammates join him on the court, he’s already knocked in nine consecutive mid-range jump shots from the corner. Only one touched part of the iron.
Looking at that wide smile, it’s hard to believe that just a few years ago Diakite didn’t speak a lick of English. He struggled to make friends at Our Savior New American School on Long Island and struggled in practice because he couldn’t understand his coaches or teammates.
In stepped junior forward Kassoum Yakwe, who went to the same high school as Diakite. Like Diakite, Yakwe is also a native of Bamako, Mali.
“I knew him from playing together on the courts back home. I would try to sit with him at lunch to help him adjust to things like basketball and school,” Yakwe said at St. John’s Media Day on Oct. 26.
He would even help Diakite with things as simple as adjusting to the colder weather in New York.
“Kassoum is like a brother to me, playing together in high school and then here together meant a lot to me,” Diakite said. He acknowledges that Yakwe is a huge reason why St. John’s felt like the right place for him.
In addition to playing together in high school, Yakwe and Diakite played together on the Pro Scholars Athletics Cardinals AAU team. Diakite’s highlight reel features a series of acrobatic dunks that most people can’t even dream of pulling off in practice, let alone in games.
Boubacar Diakite getting some work in early ahead of an expected redshirt season at St. John's. pic.twitter.com/80ENvYLlHm
— Marley Paul (@MarleyPaul22) October 26, 2017
At 6 foot 8, the recruiting website 24/7 Sports described him as a player whose “athleticism, upper-body strength, and length enable him to potentially guard both forward positions in college.” Diakite fits perfectly into the mold of Head Coach Chris Mullin’s pro-style offense. He can fly up and down the court and lead transition breaks.
Soon after Sid Wilson’s surprising transfer in August, Diakite announced that he would be enrolling early at St. John’s after reclassifying from the graduating class of 2018 to the class of 2017. A year after a serious leg injury that he’s still recovering from, he thought it was time to move on.
“I wanted to start making my dream come true and I wanted to come here with good coaches and fitness staff,” he said.
Diakite didn’t see the point in staying his senior season in which he could not play. While still not cleared for full contact, he says his leg is feeling a lot better.
He noted that from the start he has cultivated a good relationship with Mullin and his staff. Diakite gave the Red Storm his verbal commitment back in 2016. He knows that to adjust to the physical play in the Big East, he needs to put on muscle.
Diakite’s main goal for his redshirt year is to improve upon his dribbling and shooting. He’s been described by various recruiting agencies as a good mid-range shooter, but Diakite said he wants to be able to score from all over the court.
When asked what the newcomer’s greatest attribute was, Yakwe and Diakite echoed similar sentiments.
“Man, that guy doesn’t back down from anyone. He is so tough,” Yakwe said with a smile on his face.
“I think that me and Kassoum are both really tough and I like to play hard,” Diakite said. That toughness was on full display at the 2016 FIBA U18 African Championships.
“At first I didn’t want to play, but then they told me I was the captain and I saw the whole country looking to me,” Diakite said.
He was only one of two players on the team playing high school basketball in America. The Malian team finished third place in the rankings for teams from Africa in the tournament. He was the team’s fourth-leading scorer.
Once the high-intensity drills started at practice, Diakite stood at the scorer’s table, clapped and cheered his teammates on as the team worked to carry medicine balls back and forth across the court.
Diakite may have an uphill battle, but he won’t back down.