There’s a player out there that’s coming off consecutive league Player of the Year awards and, in 2019, was the first player to win his conference’s Player, Newcomer and Rookie of the Year awards in the same season. He averaged 25 points and 10 rebounds per game across his two seasons — and you may not have heard of him.
It’s time to get familiar.
Former Cal State Northridge star forward Lamine Diane took to Instagram and announced his official declaration for the NBA Draft with no intentions of returning on April 7. It’s the next step on a basketball journey that began in Dakar, Senegal, where Diane was born. His father is former Senegal national team player Keletigui Diane, and basketball was something he was constantly surrounded by growing up in a country that culturally revolves around soccer.
Becoming just the third active player and 12th player ever from Senegal to play in the NBA is something that Diane takes serious pride in.
“It’s a big thing for me,” said the Dakar native. “We’ve got a lot of soccer players but not a lot of basketball players. It would be great to make it in this sport.”
Starting out as nothing more than a pastime with friends, Diane realized his potential quickly. It became a serious possibility to follow in his father’s footsteps and even take his game outside of Senegal’s borders and overseas if the opportunity presented itself.
“When I was around 13 or 14, that’s when I started feeling like I could be good at basketball,” Diane stated. “That’s when I really started taking things seriously to take it to the next level.”
After playing in a few camps, he had multiple U.S. high schools reaching out to him, one of them being Findlay Prep in Nevada, a school that has produced players such as Tristan Thompson, Allonzo Trier, and Diane’s former teammate, P.J. Washington. He would accept Findlay Prep’s offer and moved to the United States at just 15 years old.
“Everything was different from back home,” said Diane. “I was kind of lost and wasn’t speaking any English so it was really tough. I was fine on the court, but I struggled off the court.”
After averaging 17.5 points and 6.5 rebounds per game in his senior season, Diane began to receive some offers from high major schools like Baylor, Missouri, and USC. He chose to attend Cal State Northridge and play under head coach and former NBA player Reggie Theus.
Prior to playing a minute in a collegiate game, Diane injured his wrist and was forced to take a redshirt. He would sit for his first season in Los Angeles.
“It was kind of hard,” Diane admitted. “I came ready to play and ended up getting hurt. That was my first time getting hurt in my life. Going through that pain and stuff was hard for me, I just wanted to come back. But I think it helped me in the long term.”
After the completion of the season, CSUN sat at 6-24 and in ninth place in the Big West. Theus was let go after four seasons and the Matadors brought in former North Carolina State head coach Mark Gottfried. Diane chose not to transfer after Theus’s departure.
“I like playing Coach Gottfried’s styles and I really like how his system is,” said Diane. “It was really good for me to have that experience under him.”
At the beginning of the following season, Diane was given the starting nod. In his first ever collegiate game, the Senegal native who had moved to the United States less than five years ago dropped 34 points on New Mexico in 31 minutes of play.
“I was scared at the beginning of the year,” said Diane. “I thought I wasn’t gonna be the same player. When the season started and I started doing good, I started to get my confidence back.”
Coach Gottfried had found himself a star player that would average 24.8 points, 11.2 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and 2.2 blocks per game as well as rake in three different conference accolades in his freshman season — the Player, Newcomer and Freshman of the Year. He scored double digits in every outing, had 20 double doubles and racked up thirty points seven different times in 33 games. Regardless of Diane’s efforts, the Matadors finished the season 13-21 and came in just sixth in the Big West with a first round exit in both the Big West Tournament and the College Basketball Invitation.
“It was great,” said Diane. “I was just happy to win all of those awards but I would have been more happy if we went to the tournament.”
Prior to the start of his most recent season, Diane was informed that he would have to sit out the first semester due to NCAA’s academic eligibility rules. He would be unavailable for key non-conference matchups against opponents such as Oregon State, New Mexico, Auburn, and Richmond.
“It was really tough,” recalled Diane. “I didn’t know I was going to sit out until like, one week before the season started. I remember at the end of the season, I had to take summer classes to be eligible. So I took like four or five summer classes and they told me I was going to be fine for the fall. I found out like five or six days before the season started when the NCAA emailed our school and said I couldn’t play in the fall. It was really tough for me. I was really hurt.”
Diane would eventually return to the lineup on December 22 for a home matchup against Division II San Francisco State. Northridge’s budding star would sound off for 30 points and 12 rebounds in a 35-point blowout. He would average 25.6 points, 10.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists, and two blocks per game across 19 games on his way to another conference player of the year award and Cal State Northridge’s first conference winning record since 2011. The Matadors took second in the conference and were widely considered UC Irvine’s toughest potential roadblock the Big West Tournament. Prior to the start of the tournament, the conference announced its cancellation due to COVID-19.
“I thought we were gonna win it,” said Diane. “At the end, we won like four games in a row. We started playing like that as a team and I think we would have won it.”
Now, Diane’s attention turns to the next level. Terrell Gomez, former CSUN guard and teammate of Diane’s, realized how good his teammate really was and his potential as an professional player.
“He’s probably the most talented player I have ever played with,” said Gomez. “And his confidence is through the roof. He’s going to bring slashing, rebounding, and defense to any NBA roster.”
Diane now finds himself in the unfortunate situation most declared players are in. The transition from the collegiate level to the NBA is a tough one for anybody from the mid-majors when you simply don’t get the media attention or scouting that players at high-major schools receive. A lack of an NBA Combine, team workouts, or pre-draft meetings only makes a tough situation even more difficult.
But for a kid who came to the United States seven years ago with aspirations of the NBA, this may just be another obstacle to ultimately topple.