Well, I’ve already talked at pretty significant length about Syracuse’s incoming 2015 recruits Malachi Richardson, Frank Howard, and Tyler Lydon. The one member of the class – or at least, the current class, since another recruit is still in the mix – that I haven’t talked about is Moustapha Diagne. With the mystery surrounding Thomas Bryant’s recruitment, the fact that the Orange will be losing Rakeem Christmas, and the uncertainty of how well Chris McCullough and Dajuan Coleman recover from their respective injuries, it feels like as good a time as any to talk about the guy they call Tapha.
Standing 6-foot-8 and weighing in at around 230 or 240 pounds, depending on where you look, Diagne will give the Orange a true low post presence when he arrives on campus next season. A strong shot blocker and rebounding machine, early on he might have people remembering Rick Jackson thanks to those particular attributes, along with the fact that when he gets on the offensive end of the court, the vast majority of his damage will be done from about 12 feet and in.
The one word that people have been using over the years to describe Diagne’s offensive game is “raw,” as the Pope John XXIII product – currently ranked as the 55th best player in America by ESPN – has never really had much of a need to step away from the basket over the course of his high school career. One of the things that might give Syracuse fans a bit of pause is the fact that Diagne has always been vastly superior to his competition physically, but while he’s basically maxed out in that regard, his opponents will continue to grow and get stronger as he transitions to the collegiate level. In this way, he might wind up being fairly similar to Coleman, who also used his early physical maturity to dominate smaller, weaker opponents in high school.
Diagne – who, like Malachi Richardson, was nominated for the McDonald’s All-America game – has been stuffing the stat sheets this season, regularly putting up 15-20 points and in the neighborhood of 10-15 boards on any given night, and he’s also been adding a good number of steals, blocked shots, and assists. The most surprising thing is the evolution of his offensive game, though.
While he’s obviously not going to have people mistaking him for Kevin Durant anytime soon, reports are flying around that he’s rapidly developing a decent jump shot, with his range ever expanding. So far this season, Diagne has knocked down six three pointers, and in fact scored his 1,000th career point on a deep three.
Through his first 12 games of the season, Diagne is averaging 17.3 points and 12.7 boards, to go along with 2.6 blocks and 2.5 assists. To suggest that his game is expanding at a pretty rapid rate is an understatement. From a physical standpoint, he’s probably about as good as he’s going to get. What’s nice to see is that he has apparently recognized this fact and is working hard to add some versatility to his game and grow his skill set, and it’s paying off with the big numbers he’s been putting up.
Watching clips of Diagne, several things stand out. The first is that he’s not afraid to take the ball up in the lane with either hand, which is something that could set him apart from Rick Jackson early on. I loved Ricky Jackson, as did every Syracuse fan, but as long as you played him to go to his right hand he became extremely limited offensively. With Diagne, it does not appear that this will be the case. In the highlights above, he scores with both hands. More impressive to me is the form he displays on his jump shot. Considering this is a kid who only a year or two ago people were calling raw, you wouldn’t expect his form to be as solid as it looks in these clips. Typically, a raw post player is going to have a clunky, awkward release on his jumper, but Diagne looks very smooth and confident when shooting, and appears to be a guy who could develop into a heck of a weapon out to 15-17 feet.
The other thing that stands out about Diagne offensively is the fact that he’s absolutely fearless in attacking the rim. One of the things that was disappointing in watching Chris McCullough play prior to his injury was how softly he would take the ball to the hoop, failing to explode through contact and finishing at an alarmingly low rate. Diagne is obviously going to have to adjust to the more physical play of high level Division I basketball, but it does not appear he’ll have any trouble aggressively taking the ball to the rack. It’s not just that he’s dunking the ball in those highlights – he’s punishing that rim. Watch the way the backboard sways after he finishes strong, and start getting giddy imagining the first time he spikes the ball down through the hoop and off the head of a Duke player.
Diagne is still relatively new to the United States after moving from Senegal in 2012, and to see how quickly he’s become one of the top post players in the nation is impressive. Considering how quickly his game has been advancing, it’ll be fun to watch him continue to grow into a difference making power forward for the Orange. I’m convinced that if Moustapha were 6-foot-11 rather than 6-foot-8, we would be talking about a potential top-10 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft.