Story Links

By Sam Dreiman, Athletics Media Relations Student Assistant

The Cavaliers’ practice officially ended half an hour before, but it is not over for Mamadi Diane. He is still on the court, working on his game and his shooting technique. Free throws. Jump shots from the elbow. Three-pointers from every angle. For Diane, this routine is essential.

You watch him start at the foul line, going through the same flick-of-the-wrist motion. He moves from one side of the basket to the other, banking and swishing from each spot. He goes through this routine with a sense of purpose.

With the departure of Jason Cain and J.R. Reynolds, key players that head coach Dave Leitao and the rest of the Virginia basketball team relied upon greatly, Diane is going to be more of a major part of this year’s team. It is a role he has stepped up to fill in the past.

As a freshman in 2005-06, Diane started the first 11 games of the season, and played off the bench in each one thereafter, averaging 22.3 minutes a game (eighth among freshmen in the ACC in this category). Last season he stepped up to full-time starter, averaging 27.6 minutes and playing the role of the third scoring option. Together, Reynolds and Cain averaged 25.2 points and 10.3 rebounds a game last season, and those buckets and boards need to be replaced.

“I think I made a step in the right direction from my first year to my second year,” Diane said. “But I need to take a much bigger leap now in my third year, being more consistent, playing at a higher level every game. Being consistently the third wing last year and also a third scoring option, it’s definitely a challenge that I put upon myself.”

One of the things the Cavaliers will rely on from Diane is improved consistency. He scored in double figures 17 times last season, including a career-high 26 points in a victory against Maryland, and improved his field goal shooting percentage from 33.7 percent (65-193) to 44.2 percent (111-251).
Along with the expectation of improved consistency on the court, another challenge the 6-5 junior forward faces is the new chemistry that will inevitably be a factor in the success of the upcoming season.

“We have a new team. From my first year to my second year, we had pretty much the same guys coming back. This is the first year we really have a whole new look (since I’ve been here),” Diane said. “The challenge is seeing how we play with each other and how we work with each other on the court.”

This is a serious issue. An important factor that contributed to the first-place finish in the conference and a number four seed in the NCAA Tournament last year was the ability of the returning lettermen to improve their already-developed chemistry and deliver wins. In order for Virginia to move forward after a very impressive season, Diane will have to be a leader that other players look to in the huddle when the clock ticks down in the second half. The fact he recognizes this already is a great start. But as an experienced veteran, recognition is not enough; he’ll have to act the part.

“Next to Sean (Singletary), I’ve had the most playing experience in my first year here on our team. I think because of that I’m more of a veteran, and more of a leader out there,” Diane said. “Normally, I’m not that outspoken or outgoing. I try to help lead in that way but mostly I lead through action. I just have to step up and be more of a leader. It’s not something I wasn’t expecting coming out of last year.”

One of the ways others have viewed these challenges for Diane and the Cavaliers this season is through the preseason ranking Virginia has received.
When asked how he and the team felt about their being ranked fifth in the ACC preseason poll, Diane noted how it was “a step down, but every year we’ve played up from wherever we started off so we just look at it as another challenge.”

Despite all this, the upcoming season is clearly something to look forward to.

“Being able to go on the road and play on the road, I think that’ll be a great challenge,” Diane mentioned when asked what he’s most excited about for the upcoming season. “Being able to travel, playing in different atmospheres, having all the fans and hecklers on you, that’s something I’m kind of looking forward to.”

The Cavaliers have momentum after a stellar 21-11 2006-07 season, including an ACC regular season co-championship and advancing to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. With a talented group of freshmen and sophomores, an exciting schedule that includes non-conference games against the likes of Arizona, Syracuse and Xavier, and a regular season that culminates with home games against Duke and Maryland, Diane is ready to step up to the challenges and accomplish the goals he and the team have set.

“As a team I think (our goal is) to just do better than we did last year,” Diane said. “Last year we made it to the second round of the NCAAs, but also got knocked out in the first round of the ACC Tournament. We just want to do better, go further in the ACC Tournament, and make it further than the second round of the NCAAs.”

Maybe that’s why if you go looking for him, you will likely find him finishing up his extra shooting. The practice gym echoes with the sounds of the banks and swishes of Diane’s shooting routine. Soon, those same shots will be taken a few feet away on the main floor of the John Paul Jones Arena. Except there, the sounds of the swishes will be drowned out by the cheers of the Cavalier faithful. If Mamadi Diane has his way, that will be a common occurrence this season.

Print Friendly Version