You won't find Cal St. Northridge (CSUN) on the list of men's college basketball programs that win a lot of games or regularly produce NBA talent. The Matadors haven't finished a season with a .500 or better record since 2008-09, and their last (and only) player to make it to the Association was Paul McCracken in 1972.
That must be why college basketball and the NBA draft industry have been sleeping on CSUN's Lamine Diane (pronounced: luh-MEAN juh-NAY).
One would think a pronunciation guide wouldn't be necessary for a freshman ranked in the top 10 nationally in both points and rebounds per game. If he played for Duke or Kentucky, you'd hear his name on an hourly basis. But that's how underappreciated this phenom has been.
Diane was born in Senegal. His father, Keletigui, played for the Senegal national team, so basketball was always a big part of Lamine's life. He came to the United States in 2015 and played for high school powerhouse Findlay Prep for two years. And similar to the often-told tale of Gonzaga's soon-to-be lottery pick Rui Hachimura, who hails from Japan, he faced a major language barrier.
"When he first got here, I think the only two words he knew were 'yes' and 'no,'" former Findlay Prep teammate and current Kentucky Wildcat PJ Washington told USA Today's Jason Jordan.
What was Diane's secret to learning the English language in a hurry? Immersing himself in some classic American pop culture.
"I was just watching a lot of cartoons," Diane told Bleacher Report with a laugh. "Shows like The Simpsons."
And once he was able to better communicate with teammates and understand what the coaching staff was telling him, Diane's talent began to shine.
Playing for Team Africa at the 2016 Adidas Nations, Diane averaged 27.7 points in six games and was rated by Draft Express as the top player in the event—ahead of 2018 No. 1 draft pick Deandre Ayton (ranked No. 6) and probable 2019 No. 1 draft pick Zion Williamson (ranked No. 4). That's when schools like Baylor, California and Missouri started showing an interest in him.
He then put together a strong senior campaign at Findlay Prep, averaging 17.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.7 steals in 37 games for a team that went 33-4, according to MaxPreps.
Yet, the borderline 4-star recruit—Scout had him as a 4-star (according to his CSUN bio); Rivals and the 247Sports composite had him as a 3-star—committed to one of the country's more obscure Division I programs.
Diane redshirted last year while rehabbing a wrist injury.
"My redshirt year, I didn't really do anything," Diane said. "I couldn't even practice. So this year is a lot different."
It was clear from the season opener that he hadn't acquired any rust during that year on the bench. He stormed out of the gates, scoring 34 points against New Mexico. In CSUN's five November contests, Diane averaged 26.2 points and 11.4 rebounds, and he hasn't cooled off much since.
He's averaging 24.1 and 11.0, respectively, which is outrageous for a first-year player. The only other freshmen in the past 15 years to average at least 20 and 10 were Kevin Durant, Michael Beasley, Deandre Ayton and Marvin Bagley III—four studs who either went first or second overall in the subsequent draft.
Diane is slightly behind both Ayton (11.6) and Bagley (11.1) in rebounds per game, but he is averaging more points, blocks, assists and steals than the No. 1 and 2 picks in last year's draft did as freshman.
Granted, Diane is rather old for a first-year player, as he celebrated his 21st birthday one day after that mammoth start against New Mexico. Durant was already an NBA Rookie of the Year before he turned 20, and Bagley will be almost finished with his second NBA season when he turns 21. Nevertheless, Diane is a freshman who is putting on a show on a nightly basis.
He has scored at least 14 points in every game and has put up 20 or more in 17 of 22 contests. He has 13 double-doubles and is averaging 2.3 blocks, 2.1 assists and 1.5 steals per contest.
Part of the reason he stuffs the stat sheet is he's a ball hog. Diane leads the nation in percentage of possessions used and ranks third in percentage of shots taken while on the floor. He's basically the James Harden of the Big West Conference.
But watch him play, and it's little wonder that head coach Mark Gottfried and the Matadors are content to sit back and let Diane do his thing.
Aside from consistently make free throws (51.5 percent), there's nothing this man can't do.
On Jan. 30, Diane scored a career-high 39 points at Cal St. Fullerton. With one minute remaining in the first half, he had just six points and CSUN trailed 46-21. He single-handedly outscored Fullerton 33-32 the rest of the way and darn near led the Matadors all the way back for a win.
"At the beginning of the second half, we were down by like 20," said Diane. "So I was like, 'All right, I gotta play hard to help my team to win.' In the first half, I didn't play hard enough."
There was one effort-fueled sequence in particular that may as well be his entire predraft mixtape.
It started with a turnaround jumper after he caught an entry pass just outside the lane on the low block. He took two dribbles, spun, squared his shoulders and—with perfect touch and a high release point—hit nothing but net. It wasn't Tim Duncan-esque or anything, but it was a beautiful post move from a man who is built (6'7", 205 lbs) like a wing.
On CSUN's next possession, Diane battled for position in the post for about 10 seconds before he flashed to the top of the key for an open look at a three. That's not his strong suit. He entered the game 3-of-11 from three-point range on the season, so you can understand why his defender gave him space in an attempt to keep him from driving to the hoop. But with a bit of a funky motion, he calmly drained the bucket like it was a layup.
After a Fullerton miss, Diane grabbed the defensive rebound and went coast to coast, splitting two defenders with a Eurostep before placing the ball into the hoop—easily the most athletic move of this sequence but something he does on a regular basis.
He got another defensive rebound from Fullerton's next possession and again brought it up the court himself. But this time, the defense collapsed to stop him, so he found Cameron Gottfried open in the corner. He air-balled the shot, but can you guess who was there to grab it? Diane snagged the ball and executed an up-and-under for an easy bucket.
That's nine points and three rebounds in less than two minutes, and in a wide variety of ways. He's a Swiss army knife on offense who also puts forth enough effort on defense to average nearly four combined blocks and steals per game.
Had Diane come out of nowhere, maybe you could chalk up his ridiculous numbers to the level of competition. But he already showed at Adidas Nations that he can play like this against anyone.
Sooner or later, the mock draft crowd will take notice of this Matador.
Without question, there are some holes in his game. The free-throw percentage is a tough pill to swallow. The shooting stroke in general could use work. And you can't really know how he would fare in a much less ball-dominant situation until you see it in action.
But those could be correctable or manageable flaws for a guy who has as big a bag of tricks as any player in the nation. Whether Diane declares for the draft this year or spends another three at CSUN, the NBA franchise who takes a second-round flier on him could hit the jackpot.
Kerry Miller covers men's college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @kerrancejames.