Lamine Diane finally sits down in a chair propped along the sidelines of the Matadome after putting in some extra time to work on his shooting following a Thursday late afternoon practice.
The 6-foot-7-inch redshirt freshman is fully aware that much is expected of him every day.
He looks down as he’s sitting in the chair, fidgeting with his fingers and laughs after recalling the locker room moment during halftime at Cal State Fullerton on Jan. 30 when they were down 21 points.
“I remember, like … one of my teammates was playing me, like, ‘You playing like a girl,’” Diane chuckled. “That’s why I came back in the second half playing harder.”
His teammate woke up a sleeping giant. Diane went off, single-handedly nearly wiping away the monumental deficit by scoring 29 points in the second half, pulling down 13 rebounds and recording a career-high 39 points overall, though his team would eventually fall 78-71 to the Titans.
Just a boy from Dakar, Senegal, Diane courageously relocated over 6,000 miles to start a new life in America in a bid to fulfill his hoop dreams.
“It was really hard,” Diane admitted. “It was very different when I moved out here because I couldn’t speak (English) and I didn’t have any friends, so I was just lonely.”
Diane moved to Las Vegas in 2015 where he played for Findlay Prep High School, a national power that includes the Boston Celtics’ Avery Bradley and the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Tristan Thompson among its alumni, for two years. He also participated at the prestigious Adidas Nations showcase, playing for Team Africa and averaging 28 points per game to lead the tournament in scoring.
Diane was scouted by many recruiters during his time at Findlay Prep, who had their eyes on the four-star recruit (three-star on Rivals.com).
Diane’s commitment to play for CSUN was influenced by the simple fact that he knew Marvin Adams, the former assistant CSUN basketball coach who recruited Diane.
“I knew him before I came here. That’s the only reason why I came here because I know the coaches out here,” Diane said.
Diane sat out his first year to heal a wrist injury. But from day one of stepping foot on the hardwoods of the Matadome and clocking in his first playing minutes, he has been effortlessly collecting accolades and setting records, rewriting the history books at CSUN in the process.
And while NBA teams may not be tanking for him, don’t let that be a distraction from the fact that Diane is leading all of Division I basketball with 321 field goals made (and counting), with the Big West Tournament still to play as the regular season has come to a close.
It doesn’t stop there. Diane made history by earning three Freshman of the Week accolades, which is the most by a Big West freshman in a single season in the conference’s 50-year history.
The freshman also broke the Matador single-season records for blocked shots (66), points scored (769), field goals made and double-doubles (19), and with the regular season now complete, the Senegal native has become just the second player in Big West history, along with former Pacific star Michael Olowokandi, to lead the conference in scoring, rebounding and blocks.
The phenom also made history by winning conference Player of the Year, Newcomer of the Year and Freshman of the Year honors, becoming the first Big West freshman ever to do so.
“If you can find someone that knows the answer (to stopping Diane),” UC Santa Barbara head coach Joe Pasternack said, “I’m ready to listen. I don’t have an answer … I think he’s an NBA player right now.”
The people may have unknowingly snoozed on this phenom, but Diane ranks among NBA players Kevin Durant, Michael Beasley, DeAndre Ayton and Marvin Bagley (all were first round draft picks) as the only freshman in the past 15 years to average 20 points and 10 rebounds a game.
Why isn’t Diane a national household name or a social media sensation mentioned with every timeline refresh?
“He’s a big fish in a small pond,” said teammate Blair Orr. “When you’re looking at the number one picks in the past, those are big fish in big ponds.”
Diane does not seem to be losing sleep over this, however.
“I just work hard … I don’t pay attention to social media,” he said.
He may not be the rage of the media, but Diane has the right set of eyes on him.
“The important eyes are on him, the scouts … and the people who really matter for his future,” said Orr. “He’s definitely on some radars.”
“Consistent” would be the appropriate adjective used to define this young prodigy. Diane’s consistency to play at an elite level every night, averaging 24.8 points and 11.1 rebounds per game and shooting 49.1 percent from the field during the regular season, is the reason his coaches and teammates fully trust him on the court.
“He is absolutely necessary … he’s a huge part of our offense and we have recognized the impact that he can have … and obviously utilizing it to the fullest,” Orr said.
But with high performances also come high expectations.
“It’s expected in a sense … it’s not like we’re gonna be mad at (Diane) if he doesn’t go off but there is a lot of weight on his shoulders in a sense of, you know, ‘Hey you’ve proven that you can consistently do this and we have faith in you, we have trust in you,’ and we’re putting a lot on his shoulders,” Orr explained.
Diane’s coaches understand his potential and are making sure that he continues to only get better and better.
“He’s a talented freshman. I mean, he got a lot of talent, he got a lot of potential,” assistant coach and former NBA player, Mo Williams, said. “We’re just trying to … get him prepared, get him a better education, and develop him on and off the court.”
Whether Diane decides to declare for the NBA Draft or continue his years at CSUN, he knows there’s still work that needs to be done as the Matadors look to make a run deep into the Big West Tournament in a bid to automatically qualify for the NCAA Tournament.