Mamadi Diane Reaches End of ‘Tough' Season for Virginia's Men's Basketball Team

Swingman Mamadi Diane has averaged career lows in points (4.5) and minutes (16) in his senior season for the Cavaliers, who are 3-12 in the ACC.
Swingman Mamadi Diane has averaged career lows in points (4.5) and minutes (16) in his senior season for the Cavaliers, who are 3-12 in the ACC. (By Elsa -- Getty Images)
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By Zach Berman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 7, 2009

CHARLOTTESVILLE -- Virginia senior Mamadi Diane will play his final home game Saturday when the Cavaliers host Maryland. Such finales usually feature the celebration of a senior's career, but for Diane, the day also will mean a forgettable senior season is drawing closer to an end.

"It has been tough. I'd be lying if I said it hasn't," Diane said. "I wanted this to be my best year."

Diane had started 65 games entering this season, including all of the 2006-07 season, when Virginia was ACC co-champion and reached the second round of the NCAA tournament. As a sophomore, he scored 25 points in an upset of No. 10 Arizona in the first game at John Paul Jones Arena. The former DeMatha standout's scoring average progressed from six points per game in his freshman year to 9.6 as a sophomore to 11.8 last season.

After the departure of star guard Sean Singletary and forward Adrian Joseph, Diane was expected to carry the Cavaliers. Offseason foot surgery slowed the swingman at the beginning of the season, and his playing time has been inconsistent -- and sometimes nonexistent. He is averaging 4.5 points in 16 minutes -- both career lows -- and has lost his preseason starting spot. Coach Dave Leitao did not insert Diane into four consecutive ACC games last month.

Diane said the events of the season took a toll on his family -- specifically Diane's father, Mori.

"In fact, we have been desperately praying to see [Saturday] come and go, so we can claim our life again," Mori Diane said.

Earlier in the season, Mori often called Mamadi to check how his son was handling the adversity. Now, Mori said Mamadi calls his father because of how hard the family is taking Mamadi's senior season.

"A lot of stuff gets to him more than it gets to me," Mamadi said. "The whole situation as of late had gotten to him. I keep trying to tell him everything will be fine. I'm fine."

Mori said Leitao has been "demeaning" to Mamadi and said his repeated calls to Leitao have gone unreturned. Mori emphasized that the pattern has continued throughout four years -- even when Mamadi was playing well.

"I don't know why. I called him and left a message, telling him a foot operation did this for him and I need to talk to you about what's going on with him," Mori said. "He has not spoken with my son the whole year. He has not greeted him, not addressed him. It's like Mamadi does not exist."

Through a Virginia sports information official, Leitao declined the opportunity to respond to Mori's comments. In past public comments, though, Leitao referenced a meeting he had with Diane this season.

Leitao did not recruit Mamadi, who was part of former coach Pete Gillen's final recruiting class. But Mamadi entered Virginia during Leitao's first season and has played only for Leitao. Mori said the family chose to remain committed to Virginia after Gillen's departure because of the quality of Virginia's overall product and assurance from Athletic Director Craig Littlepage that the Cavaliers would hire a good coach.

For his part, Leitao said this week that it will be "bittersweet and sad" to watch Diane's final home game.

"Going into senior night on Saturday, obviously when you sum up the body of his work, I go back to the first game of his first year, he had 17 points," Leitao said. "From there, he's had some really, really good moments. He's been player of the week in this league, helped us with a number of victories. He's been a significant part of an 11-5 ACC co-champion.

"And he's experienced a downside of it. This year is probably as low as he thought he could go."

Diane believes he will be remembered as much by his four years than his senior season. Opposing coaches, players and former teammates have shown their support for him. Diane said Maryland Coach Gary Williams, who recruited him out of DeMatha, pulled him aside after a game earlier this season with good words and an offer to help when Mamadi's career concludes.

Diane is still perplexed why this season evolved like it has, but his family will look at this spring's graduation as a reason for celebration, even if Saturday's senior day is not.

"I'm looking forward to the end," Mamadi said. "It's good to move on sometimes. I've been here for a while and I'm ready for the next chapter of my life."

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