The Curious Case of Virginia's Mamadi Diane

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The Curious Case of Virginia's Mamadi Diane

There are a million story lines every season in college basketball.

Every team has players who succeed unexpectedly and others who fail to live up to the hype.

But no one in the country has anything on the bizarre tale of Mamadi Diane.

Diane, a senior captain at the University of Virginia, had established a solid reputation in his first three years. After all, he is the man who scored the first points ever in the luxurious palace known as the John Paul Jones Arena. It was the beginning of Virginia's signature win against then-tenth-ranked Arizona.

Diane was 5-of-6 from behind the arc that game, and his hot touch all season long helped bring the Cavaliers from a predicted last-place finish in the conference all the way to a tie for the regular-season ACC crown with UNC in 2007.

It had Arizona Wildcat coach Lute Olsen beside himself in the press conference and the media desperately trying to figure out how to pronounce the kid's name (it's Dee-ah-nay, by the way).

Diane was the "third piece" to the J.R. Reynolds-Sean Singletary one-two punch. When Diane played well, Virginia was one of the top teams in the country. When he was off, however, they were vulnerable.

He was the future of Virginia, and the future was looking bright.

Diane knew he would have to take a bigger role on the team in 2007-08 with the departure of J.R. Reynolds. Considering how much both Reynolds and big man Jason Cain had developed under Coach Leitao, it appeared Diane would be the next in line to break out.

Well, the season came and went, and Diane did not break out. In fact, he seemed to sink.

Diane's numbers went up slightly between his sophomore and junior year (his PPG jumped from 9.6 to 11.8), but inconsistency plagued the swing man.

Here's an example:

Diane scored in double figures in five out of his first six ACC games, and scored 15 points or more in three of those contests. 

But in his next seven games, Diane scored in double figures only once, when he had 20 against Boston College.

Then, in his last three games of the ACC regular season, Diane averaged nearly 14 PPG.

Inconsistency be thy name, Diane.

And then, after that mess of an ACC season, he had surgery over the offseason, which gave him a slow start in practice this year. Nobody wants to get hurt before their fourth year, but it was not career-threatening. 

Diane returned to the court in full health, physically, but one must wonder if some of those bad performances were beginning to weigh on him mentally.

Diane's fall from the grace must be the biggest drop-off for a healthy player in college basketball this year.

Name another team captain (and poster-child for his team's media guide) who returned as the leading scorer but is now averaging 4.5 PPG.

Diane's scoring average has been more than cut in half from previous years, and the new three-point line gets a great deal of credit for this dramatic drop-off.

Diane, who has made 118 three-pointers in his career, is shooting 3-of-32 from behind the arc this season.

Let that sink in a moment; Virginia's long-range assassin is shooting nine percent from three-point land.

His overall numbers are not much better: He's at 35 percent from the field for the season, and has totals of 11 assists and 20 turnovers.

With the season already lost and his leader suffering, Virginia coach Dave Leitao made the difficult decision to bench his captain and keep him there.

While Virginia was taking down Clemson and Virginia Tech in big upsets, Diane could only watch from the bench and wonder what could have been.

So imagine everyone's surprise when the man who has missed four entire games this season (a captain who is averaging 17 minutes a game) re-emerged this past weekend against N.C. State.

The Cavaliers needed a lift after two sluggish efforts to begin both halves, and Leitao decided to roll the dice with "Mr. Risk-Reward" himself.

The result? Eleven points in 15 minutes of play, thanks to 5-of-6 shooting from the floor. It was only his third double-figure game of the season.

Diane put the team on his back and helped trim a 17-point deficit all the way down to one last Saturday, and although Virginia fans were disappointed with the loss, many had to feel happy for their veteran leader, who finally had a happy moment in a season most people would like to forget.

With a youth movement started for Virginia basketball, no one really knows how much time Diane will get down the stretch.

Will Leitao give him minutes that could be given to his "superstars of tomorrow," like Sylven Landesberg and Jeff Jones?

Mamadi Diane is not someone that will make national headlines, but his story is one that has mirrored the fate of Virginia basketball these past few seasons.

Leitao bet the bank on this Dematha Catholic graduate, yet Diane has not panned out like everyone had hoped. It hurts when it happens to such a good kid with a great attitude, but the numbers speak for themselves.

Diane's great game against the Wolfpack may indicate he has turned the corner and is ready to end his career on a positive note. 

Maybe he will play the role of Jason Rogers or Billy Campbell, forgotten seniors who miraculously stepped up their games at the end of the season for Virginia. Maybe this is the light at the end of the tunnel.

Let's be honest, though: Cavalier fans have heard that one before.

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