By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — To Tony Bennett, they’re all members of the same extended family, whether they suited up for Gus Tebell or Evan “Bus” Male, for Billy McCann or Bill Gibson, for Terry Holland or Jeff Jones, for Pete Gillen or Dave Leitao — or for him. Bennett views UVa’s former players as important parts of the men’s basketball program he now leads.
His assistants include Jason Williford, who played for Jones at Virginia, and they feel the same way. Which is one reason Mamadi Diane, who did not play for Bennett, feels comfortable stopping by John Paul Jones Arena to hone his skills.
The 6-5 guard is in town for a couple of weeks, staying with guard Mustapha Farrakhan, who as a senior was one of Bennett’s standouts this season. The coaching staff has encouraged Diane to work out with the Cavaliers’ current players.
During a 3-on-3 game Monday afternoon, a group of veterans — Diane, Farrakhan and rising senior Assane Sene — took on Joe Harris, KT Harrell and James Johnson, all of whom enrolled at UVa last year.
Is it awkward for Diane to train at JPJ and be around coaches he didn’t play for?
“Not at all,” he said. “They’ve been so welcoming.”
Diane graduated from UVa in 2009 with a bachelor’s degree in foreign affairs, and one day he may pursue a career related to his major.
“Not yet,” Diane said with a smile.
He played professionally in Spain in 2009-10 and then in November 2010 was drafted by the Tulsa 66ers of the NBA Development League. The 66ers later waived him, and Diane, 24, said he’s now looking for “the best situation that comes up.”
He’s been training with Mike Curtis, UVa’s strength-and-conditioning coach for men’s hoops, and “I feel like I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in,” Diane said.
As a senior at DeMatha Catholic High in Hyattsville, Md., Diane signed a letter of intent with UVa. He expected to play for Gillen in college. He ended up playing for Leitao, who took over after Gillen stepped down under pressure in March 2005.
Diane started 77 of the 119 games that he played for the Wahoos and finished with career averages of 8.6 points and 3.5 rebounds. As a senior, however, he fell out of favor with Leitao, to whose abrasive coaching style Diane did not always respond well.
Leitao’s tumultuous tenure ended in March 2009, after which UVa hired Bennett away from Washington State.
“What he’s been doing here is great,” Diane said of Bennett. “He’s a players’ coach.”
Particularly impressive to Diane is Bennett’s emphasis on skill development during practice.
“I really like coming in and seeing the individual-oriented stuff they do,” said Diane, who’s based in the D.C. area.
In his first college game, Diane totaled 17 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 blocked shots and a steal in a victory over Liberty. He never reached the heights predicted by many who witnessed that dazzling debut, but Diane closed his college career in memorable fashion.
In his first start in more than a month — it was Senior Day at JPJ — Diane scored 23 points to lead UVa to a 68-63 upset of Maryland in the regular-season finale. Five nights later in Atlanta, Diane scored 24 points in a 76-63 loss to Boston College in the ACC tournament’s first round.
Diane’s final college game also turned out to be Leitao’s last game as the Cavaliers’ coach.
Contemporaries of Diane who are playing (or have played) professionally overseas include J.R. Reynolds, Jason Cain, Sean Singletary, Ryan Pettinella and Adrian Joseph.