Samba Diallo provides UMass’ emotional heartbeat

  • Dayton's Rodney Chatman (0) drives against Massachusetts' Samba Diallo (5) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020, in Dayton. (AP Photo/John Minchillo) John Minchillo

  • UMass sophomore forward Samba Diallo pauses during the first half against Saint Louis, Jan. 5 in St. Louis. Diallo is the emotional heartbeat for the Minutemen, epitomizing coach Matt McCall’s A.C.E. culture: attitude, commitment and effort. AP

  • Massachusetts' Samba Diallo, left, heads to the basket past Saint Louis' Hasahn French during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Jan. 5, 2020, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson) Jeff Roberson—AP

  • Massachusetts' Samba Diallo, left, heads to the basket past Saint Louis' Hasahn French during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Jan. 5, 2020, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson) Jeff Roberson—AP

Staff Writer
Published: 1/14/2020 7:25:14 PM

AMHERST — One of the first things Samba Diallo does when he sees his coach is ask him about his A.C.E.

It’s an acronym for Attitude, Commitment and Effort, and is the hallmark of the culture coach Matt McCall is trying to build at UMass. As much as the question is an inside joke between player and coach, it’s very clear it’s important to Diallo and his view on basketball.

“That’s something we stand (for) here,” Diallo said. “As long as you bring your attitude, commitment and effort, you can live with the results because most of the time when you bring that, you’re going to be happy with the results. It’s something we joke around about but it’s something that’s helping a lot with these young guys.”

It was very clear Saturday that UMass did not bring its A.C.E. to Dayton, and McCall was critical of his team’s compete level in the loss to the Flyers. When asked about pinpointing a cause for the early lack of competitive fire, he mentioned how Diallo’s second foul just shy of four minutes into the game had an effect on the team.

For one, it removed UMass’ most physical defender from the game and the Minutemen lacked toughness on the interior. It also meant that the Minutemen’s emotional heartbeat was off of the court for an extended period of time as Dayton ran away with the game. The 6-foot-7 forward might not always contribute in ways that show up in the box score, but his ACE certainly factors into the whole team’s performance.

“When he’s in a good mood, our team is in a good mood,” McCall said. “When he’s in a good place and playing well, our team is in a good place and playing well. He leads by example, he has since he’s been here, he’s not a guy who’s going to be swayed one way or another, he’s set in who he is as a person and being about all the right things.”

Surprisingly, Diallo is the third longest tenured scholarship player for UMass behind junior guard Carl Pierre and redshirt junior Keon Clergeot, who both joined the Minutemen before the 2017-18 season. Yet the sophomore’s not mentioned much when talking about leaders on the team because he isn’t an overly emotional player on the court. He became internet famous this season for his calm, cool, composed reaction to Sean East’s full-court buzzer-beater against Northeastern.

Both Diallo and McCall used words like energy, physicality and toughness when describing Diallo’s playing style, but he never flaunts it when he makes one of those plays. When he finishes through contact at the rim for a three-point play opportunity, he isn’t one to flex for the cameras and crowd. He remains understated in those moments, but he also understands he is in many ways the emotional heartbeat of the Minutemen.

“I can see that because I play with a lot of passion,” Diallo said. “I always bring energy and I’m energetic. I like to see everybody just feeding off my energy, and I know if everybody is feeding off of my energy then everybody’s going to get better. That’s what I’m trying to bring every time I step on the floor as much as I can.”

Finding ways to have the rest of the Minutemen match Diallo’s competitive fire on a daily basis has been the goal for McCall since returning from Dayton. Tuesday’s closed practice sounded like a spirited affair with the noises coming from the Champions Center sounding louder and more passionate than normal. At one point, East sprinted around the court enthusiastically screaming “and one” after presumably making a shot through contact.

Rejuvenating the team’s competitive juices is an important task for McCall, who said it’s the only way this young UMass team will have a chance to win in the Atlantic 10 this season. That is especially true Wednesday when the Minutemen (7-9, 1-2 Atlantic 10) make the trek to Rochester, New York, to face St. Bonaventure (11-5, 3-0) at 7 p.m.

“Our guys are competing and we as a staff need to do a better job of continuing to keep things simple and understanding us competing and competing at a high level every day is the most important thing,” McCall said. “Not that the opponent is not important, not that scouting is not important, but with a young team like this, that competitive fire is what we need to be focused on every day. … That’s what night in and night out to give ourselves chances in games in this league we need to focus on.”

Josh Walfish can be reached at jwalfish@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @JoshWalfishDHG. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.



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