2019 Summer Feature Series: Hamidou Diallo

“Jellying” works best out in the open floor on a fast break. Hamidou Diallo is used to being there. When he doesn’t rise up for a thunderous two-handed, over-the-head slam dunk, Diallo puts a little “jelly” on a finger roll layup.

Leaping off one foot, legs split out like Jordan in the dunk contest, then curling the ball with one hand and flicking the wrist to knock it in off the backboard. That’s a jelly. It’s a call-out to 1,500 miles away, to the Jelly Fam movement back in New York City.

It started with Isaiah Washington. A friend from Harlem, New York who this summer is transferring back to the tri-state area to Iona College from University of Minnesota. Washington created the layup, “jellying”, a little finger roll with some flare on it. It’s become a phenomenon for kids in the New York City area, something for youngsters to use to show out if they play below the rim. Diallo was raised in the New York City basketball scene, which has seen a resurgence in the last half-decade.  

“NYC basketball is based around competitiveness, players just being able to showcase their talent in many ways,” Diallo said. “We just show a sense of urgency and we’re just gritty and competitive players.”

Raised in the Lefrak City neighborhood of Queens, NY, Diallo managed to separate himself as a basketball player from the rest of the kids spilling out of the 4,600 apartments that make up his mini-city of 14,000 people packed into a 40-acre area. Diallo’s Guinean parents immigrated to New York and raised their four children in one of the twenty 17-story apartment towers in LeFrak City.

“That neighborhood made me the person that I am today and just made me the basketball player that I am today,” Diallo added.

Diallo’s mettle was forged inside the city limits, but to hone his craft and develop skills that readied him for the University of Kentucky and eventually the NBA and the Thunder, he skipped town to Putnam Science Academy in Connecticut. On his own for the first time, Diallo capitalized on a late growth spurt, refined his game and averaged 19.0 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists in his senior year to become a high-level recruit.

“I had a lot of ‘me’ time. I had a lot of time to really focus and really know what I want to be. I really was able to take the game to the next level,” said Diallo.  

During one season at Kentucky, where he played alongside current Thunder teammate Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Diallo averaged 10 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game, left for the NBA Draft at age 19 and the Thunder aggressively found a way to get him to Oklahoma City through a draft night trade.

In 51 games during his rookie season for the Thunder, Diallo averaged 3.7 points and 1.7 rebounds, while slamming home 22 dunks and shooting 45.5 percent from the field overall, including 58.3 percent within three feet on slashing attacks to the rim. He was solid on defense too, making 1.4 steals per-36 minutes he was on the court. Early in the year, Diallo was a central figure in the Thunder’s defense-to-offense identity, often pressuring the ball to force a bad pass, finding himself in the right place at the right time to intercept the ball or being on the receiving end of a transition alley-oop toss.  

At All-Star Weekend, Diallo won the Slam Dunk Contest by famously jumping over Shaquille O’Neal and burying his elbow through the rim.

However, Diallo’s minutes tapered off starting in mid-January and he played in just 6 of the team’s 25 games after the All-Star Break before undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right elbow in mid-April, de-railing any chance of playing in the postseason.

“In this league you've got to be ready for anything at any given time, and sometimes you face adversity, but you still have to learn how to fight through and learn how to push through,” Diallo said.  

Diallo recovered throughout April, May and June and was ready to go for Summer League in Las Vegas, where he was fantastic. Showing off an elevated confidence level with his ballhandling, Diallo was fluid on dribble drives, careening through traffic in the open floor and explosive to the rim with more restraint than he had during his rookie campaign. During four games at Summer League he was clearly a team leader and averaged 14.8 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 1.3 assists on 43 percent shooting.

Heading into the 2019-20 season, Diallo will be in the thick of competition for more playing time. Chris Paul, Dennis Schröder, Gilgeous-Alexander and Terrance Ferguson will all likely see minutes at shooting guard, but both Ferguson and Diallo are capable of sliding into lineups as a third guard, using their length and physicality to defend small forwards.

That’s the aspect of Diallo’s game that will be most critical to his overall development as a dynamic all-around player. His outside shooting will come around and but 95 percent of what Diallo is charged with doing every night on the court has nothing to do with shooting the ball. Heading into 2019 Training Camp, which starts in October, Diallo is intent on proving he can be more than just a dunker and finisher at the rim.

“Going out there defending the best player every night and showing that I'm capable to do that at a high level,” Diallo said. “Just display a full evaluation of where I'm at after all of the work that I put in in the summer.”