HOUSTON – As media members, local and national alike, flocked to the locker room after the UConn men’s basketball team took home the program’s fifth National Championship, you could see the emotions fill the room – jubilation, excitement, satisfaction and so much more. Everyone was abuzz – the massive NRG Stadium space filled with players, coaches and even Husky royalty ready to talk about the six-game dominance that unfolded.
Among all of the faces, one stood out among the crowd – a look of pure contentment came from Director of Player Development Mamadou Diarra.
A former 4-star prospect from UConn’s 2016 “Top Five” class, Diarra’s chronic knee issues forced him to the sideline. Staying on as a student assistant for three years before being named to his current role, Diarra has lived through the highs and lows of the historic program – from home losses to Tulsa to standing tall as the country’s top dogs. For that journey, the former forward considers himself a very lucky man.
“Truthfully, it’s hard to put into words,” said Diarra. “When I got here, we had huge expectations, and things didn’t go as planned. Just being able to see it through, and being a part of UConn getting back to what it’s supposed to [be] has just been amazing. I’m the luckiest person here, for real. I’ve seen it all.”
“When I got here, we had huge expectations, and things didn’t go as planned. Just being able to see it through, and being a part of UConn getting back to what it’s supposed to [be] has just been amazing. I’m the luckiest person here, for real. I’ve seen it all.”Mamadou Diarra, Director of Player Development
Wrapping up his fourth year with the Connecticut support staff, Diarra’s role has transformed into being a go-to resource for the team, setting up meetings with players and helping them grow on and off the court.
“It definitely has its struggles, just because I’m used to being the player, I wanna still be out there,” Diarra admitted. “But it’s been great because I just learn. I’m with the best coaches in the country. I get to spend time with some of these great young men. Any way I can help them, I try to, and being able to be a part of something like this is truly special.”
During the title match with San Diego State, the Huskies found themselves in a couple of tougher positions, but managed to bounce back from adversity as they have all season. Even from the bench, Diarra made contributions, keeping players focused on their ultimate goal.
“There were a couple times during the game where the other team punched back, as expected,” explained the Putnam Science Academy graduate. “Those times are important for me and the rest of our staff, to keep the team on the right pace, to keep the team confident. That’s what it’s been all season, that’s what my role is, just to be able to pick guys up when they need it.”
Diarra has been a key piece of the program since stepping into his support role, earning the respect of many.
“Mamadou’s great. He’s been there since the beginning. He’s a great leader. When he takes control, he’s been phenomenal all year. He’s part of the building blocks here at UConn, he’s pivotal to what we do.”Chris Mastrangelo, graduate assistant
“Mamadou’s great,” said graduate assistant Chris Mastrangelo. “He’s been there since the beginning. He’s a great leader. When he takes control, he’s been phenomenal all year. He’s part of the building blocks here at UConn, he’s pivotal to what we do.”
Throughout the media availability, Diarra never left the side of his brother, transfer guard Hassan Diarra. The two sat there, chatting with journalists and among themselves, both soaking in the moment they previously had only dreamed of.
“I just can’t put [the joy of being alongside Hassan] into words, man,” said Mamadou. “Just being able to be here with him. We’ve talked about this forever. We talked about it when he was making his [transfer portal] decision… talked about this growing up. We’ve been basketball guys our whole lives, so to be able to see the height of college basketball and win a national championship has been everything. Together.”
From briefly sitting with them, the brotherly love and respect for each other’s roles on the team felt immense. Mamadou cherishes the time spent with his younger sibling.
“It’s a beautiful thing,” Mamadou noted. “I get to see him grow, and that’s the biggest thing. You want to see your siblings grow, you want to see your family grow. Obviously he’s had some adversity throughout the season, but the way he’s been able to weather the storm and just keep going, it’s been amazing.”
On the other end, Hassan was appreciative of the time and effort his brother has put in, not only with himself but with every member of the Huskies.
“My brother has just been supportive through everything. He’s a supporter. He’s been through college basketball. He knows all the ups and downs to it. He’s been supportive, but it’s not only for me. He’s there for all of these guys. He meets with these guys daily. He’s there helping us through it all.”Hassan Diarra, transfer guard and brother of Mamadou Diarra
“My brother has just been supportive through everything,” Hassan said. “He’s a supporter. He’s been through college basketball. He knows all the ups and downs to it. He’s been supportive, but it’s not only for me. He’s there for all of these guys. He meets with these guys daily. He’s there helping us through it all.”
The Texas A&M transfer was in awe of Mamadou’s career journey, while grateful to play such a big part of this chapter.
“It’s hard to even put into words, man,” Hassan mentioned. “This guy is amazing, his story is legendary. He’s been here at UConn for seven years. He’s seen it all. He’s a major part of why this program is where it is right now. We’re at the top of the pedestal. I’m just glad to be here.”