Every now and then, John Calipari would tease Hamidou Diallo. And that’s what it was: not a joke, but a tease. He would say, “Make sure you have your jersey on for this game.” The discussion never advanced beyond that.

So Diallo would sit and watch. He arrived at the University of Kentucky on Dec. 27, which means he watched UK play nearly two dozen times before its season ended in the NCAA Tournament South Regional final loss to North Carolina.

And he’d wonder.

“When the games were close, my butt was getting itchy on the bench every time,” Diallo told Sporting News. “I just wanted to get in, just wanted to take that warmup off for once and show everybody what I can do. And just help the team. Playing in practice and then seeing the team going out and competing and you not being able to help, it’s tough. I’m a competitor.”

When Diallo enrolled for the spring semester at Kentucky after leaving prep school, the plan he and Calipari had conceived involved practicing with the Wildcats, entering the NBA Draft if he wished and ultimately determining if it would be best for him to take his chances there or return for the 2017-18 season in college.

The theory behind this approach was that Diallo might damage his standing for the draft if he rushed into college competition before he was prepared, and that he might disrupt UK’s team chemistry if wedged into a rotation that wasn’t desperate for perimeter players. The 6-5 Diallo might have been able to help in a given circumstance if asked to take the floor and help get some defensive stops, but his lack of experience might have been an issue there, even.

So he practiced, attended film sessions, prepared as though he actually would play and then … watched. And, ideally, learned.