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Kansas coach Bill Self: Cheick Diallo will get the last laugh

Cheick Diallo had an impressive first day at the draft combine. Jeffrey Becker/USA TODAY Sports

LOUISVILLE, KY. -- Through the rough times, the times when Kansas freshman forward Cheick Diallo wondered when he'd get on the court, he leaned on another freshman going through the same thing a couple states away.

Diallo, ranked seventh in the 2015 ESPN 100, became friends with Kentucky center Skal Labissiere, who was ranked No. 2. The pair played in many of the same camps and all-star games before entering college, and many speculated both had one-and-done talent.

It didn't develop like that for either player. Diallo's start was held up by the NCAA triple checking his eligibility. And once he was cleared, like Labissiere, he had a hard time staying on the floor.

"Every time I texted him, I'd say, 'Bro, what is your plan?'" Diallo said. "He'd say, 'I'm going to the gym.' Well, I would say I'm going to the gym too and go work on my post moves. He'd work on his pick-and-pop."

Diallo and Labissiere shared a common bond as foreign players who came to the States to play basketball. Diallo is originally from Mali; Labissiere is from Haiti. Their backgrounds allowed them to not get caught up with any disappointment from outsiders because they constantly reminded each other of the opportunity they have in front of them.

"Even not a basketball standpoint, in life, you can do a lot of stuff here," Diallo said. "Because back home, you don't have many opportunities like that, so that's why I say you're here for some reason, you're not here to play around."

There's a good chance if the Jayhawks and Maryland have a close game in the Sweet 16 on Thursday that Diallo might not play. He didn't get in during their second-round game against Connecticut. He has barely played in a postseason that included the Big 12 tournament.

Diallo's response to not playing has simply been to cheer on his teammates. He hasn't spent any time complaining about his 7.5 minutes a game.

"Cheick's a great guy, he's always had a positive attitude and he's always a good guy to be around," KU guard Frank Mason III said. "His time will definitely come, he's still improving and all that."

Waiting for his day to come keeps Diallo motivated. KU coach Bill Self said he remained a high-energy player who prepares as if he's starting. Self said Diallo essentially became the odd man out in the rotation simply because other players fit into the rotation faster than he did. When Kansas got on a roll there was no need to tweak the lineup.

"Cheick will get the last laugh on everybody, and I think he knows that," Self said. "He knows he's young in the game and he's got a lot to learn. But certainly his enthusiasm and his want-to hasn't been dampened at all by not playing as much as I know he wants to play."