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The Emergence of Mo Diarra

When I wrote my preview of the post players before the season, I said that I thought Mo Diarra was going to be a very important piece of this team's success. At the time I didn't know just how right I was.

Mo Diarra is originally from France, but his US hometown is the booming metropolis of Garden City Kansas. He attended prep school at Redemption Christian in New York where he played basketball and soccer. Yes, he played soccer. Imagine a guy 6-10 playing soccer. He played basketball all 4 years in prep school but didn't catch the attention of College coaches, so he ended up at Garden City Community College where he began to show his potential. In 2022 he was named the number one JUCO transfer in the country. He ended up joining Dennis Gates at Missouri for the 2022-2023 season, but he played sparingly. I did watch game footage of him and it was immediately clear that he was athletic and had so much potential. My first impression of him was that he was very agile and quick, while at the same time being strong in the post defending and on offense. His most valuable skill is rebounding, however.

Kevin Keatts and company persuaded him to come join the Wolfpack after last season, and what a great addition he has been. He injured his ankle early this season, and that hampered his playing time, after that, he was seemingly forgotten and relegated to the bench. His playing time increased gradually, but he still seemed somewhat out of sync. His talents started to show as the season developed. He first started showing off his insane rebounding ability.

This team was not a good rebounding team, and it was a noticeable problem early in the season, but once Diarra started to play more, it became clear that he was a beast on the boards. Part of this is attributable to the coaching staff. He has gotten much better as the season has developed, and not just as a rebounder. His offensive skills have improved dramatically, and he is an important part of the Wolfpack arsenal now. Scoring in double figures has become the norm. He has made quite a few big 3-pointers for the Wolfpack in pressure situations In the latter half of the season and will not hesitate to take open shots from beyond the arc. For the season, he is shooting 33.3 % from 3-point land which is very respectable from a 6-10 guy, but if you look at the last half of the year, he is knocking them down at a higher percentage. He is a threat now and that helps the offense by drawing another big out of the paint at times opening up driving lanes. He is one of those rare players who seems to know exactly where he should be on the court at all times. He just has an instinct that most good players do. I think the reason that he is such a great rebounder is because he anticipates where the ball is going to come off the rim. He is just so good at going to the glass.

Defensively Mo Diarra is a big who can switch on screens with any position and keep his man in front of him, and that includes point guards. There were several times that he was switched off on Tyler Kolek in the Marquette game and played him very well. He is one of the best defensive bigs that I have seen in a long time because of his quickness and his ability to guard anyone. Diarra is also a rim protector who blocks his fair share of shots. He has developed into one of the best power forwards in the country, and it was a quick transformation.

One aspect of his development has to be coaching. I know that he works as hard as anyone on his game, but he has been coached very well this year. His defense has gotten much better, and his decision-making has also improved. I believe he is very coachable and he is intelligent so he understands what is expected of him. If other bigs are interested in being developed, they should take notice of his transformation. This should be a selling point for recruiting.

Another aspect of his emergence is that he is getting game experience and he is learning every game. He is athletic and quick, and just playing and gaining confidence has helped him blossom into a star before our eyes. He has worked hard on his shooting, including his free throws. He has steadily improved at the line and is now shooting near 65%. From inside the arc, he is shooting 58% for the year. Both of these are significantly higher than last year at Missouri.

It's even more amazing that since the ACC tournament started, he has been unable to eat or drink from sun up until sundown because he is observing Ramadan which is 30 days in length. It is a sacred time for The Muslim faith, and Mo Is a devout Muslim. It's incredible to me that he has been able to play with so much energy and stamina, especially on the days when he could not eat or drink anything before or during the game.

Mo Diarra is a special talent who is a good fit for Kevin Keatts's style of play, and he is only going to get better. Regardless of what happens against Duke, he has been a vital part of what has become something very special this year. Next year he is going to be one of the leaders, and he could be one of the best players in the ACC. I'm optimistic about the Duke game today, and the Wolfpack has a chance to do something extremely difficult, and that is to get to the final 4. That hasn't happened since 1983. If it does happen, Mo Diarra is going to play a vital role.



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