SDSU Men’s Basketball Season Preview: Tahirou Diabate

Credit: Garrison/ EVT

Credit: Paul Garrison/ EVT

Tahirou Diabate has had a very unique life story. He was born in Mali, Africa. But, unfortunately, the African nation isn’t a country known as a basketball powerhouse.

In the last FIBA Afrobasket, Mali finished 15th out of 16 teams. Diabate didn’t stay there long, though, as he moved around a lot growing up. He’s lived in France, the Canary Islands and ended up playing high school basketball in Japan. Diabate is fluent in five languages. The SDSU Aztec basketball player speaks Bambara (from Mali), English, Spanish, French, and Japanese.

Growing up in several different places has forced Diabate to be very flexible. Learning new languages, new cultures, meet new people has all molded Diabate into who he is today. He is a very versatile person, able to fit into several different situations, and his role on the basketball court may be the same.

In Japan, Diabate faced players like current Washington Wizards forward Rui Hachimura. As a junior in high school, he averaged 31 points and 18 rebounds a game and finished one game with 101 points. He led his team to the Okinawa Cup, the national championship in Japan, and finished as tournament MVP that season.

In an EVT exclusive interview, coach Acker was asked how Diabate’s upbringing influences his game. “He competes like he’s trying to earn a job every single day, and I think international players, for the most part, most of those guys compete that way. Especially when they’ve had the experiences he’s had,” coach Acker explained. 

Diabate came to the U.S. to play college ball at the University of Portland. He started 70 games for Portland over three seasons and averaged seven points and four rebounds in eighteen minutes a game. He was a back-to-the-basket big man at Portland who would score in the post, collect rebounds, and defend the rim.

The big man played his best game at Portland when as a junior, he scored 25 points on only 12 shots and collected seven rebounds as well. Diabate finished his junior season, averaging 9.6 points and 5.1 rebounds per game. He took a year off last year due to Covid concerns and then decided to enter the transfer portal and commit to San Diego State. 

Credit: Paul Garrison/ EVT

Upon Arriving at SDSU, coach Acker was very complimentary of Diabate’s work ethic. “The guy lives in the gym. He’s always working on his game,” Acker said. The Aztec program was built on guys with great work ethics. Whether it be back in the day with Kawhi Leonard or Jamaal Franklin, or more recently Malachi Flynn or Jordan Schakel, they were all guys that the coaching staff had to kick out of the gym, and it sounds as if Diabate is the same way. 

The current Aztec basketball player’s primary role with the team will likely be as a backup center. When asked about Diabate’s skill set, coach Acker was honest. “He’s a guy that can face up and hit a fifteen-footer, he’s very, very strong getting to his left hand and finishing at the basket, he is capable of making an open three, and he’s learning and adapting to our style of play,” coach Acker said. Having a player with that much experience and versatility as a backup speaks to the level of depth on the team. It’s not hard to imagine a player that versatile playing next to either Nathan Mensah or Joshua Tomaic in two big lineups.

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Coach Dutcher and his staff like having versatile players that can play positionless basketball.

Diabate’s role may be hard to peg early on due to his versatility, but the ability to fill multiple roles will help the Aztecs win games. In a short time, Diabate has made an impression on coach Acker and the rest of the staff. “He’s making guys better whether he’s defending them or whether the ball is in his hands, and they have to guard him. Guys are getting better around him.” Diabate may just spend one year on the Mesa, but he’s setting himself up to have an impactful year. 

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