Diarra tries to make big transition

Times Staff Writer

Mamadou Diarra reached 7 feet several months ago, officially making him the tallest player on the USC men’s basketball team.

When it comes to the freshman center’s fledgling skills, there’s still plenty of room for growth. Even though Diarra scored a game-high 18 points to lead the Cardinal to a 78-51 victory over the White on Friday night in a scrimmage at the Galen Center, he didn’t exactly face a stout defense.

Most of Diarra’s points came on uncontested dunks, which will be a rare occurrence against the likes of UCLA’s Kevin Love and Stanford’s Brook and Robin Lopez.


“One day, it will happen for him,” USC Coach Tim Floyd said of Diarra. “I don’t know when. He’s got a lot of God-given ability in terms of the ability to run, jump, block shots. He’s just learning how to play the game right now.”

Indeed, Diarra said the transition from playing at Simi Valley Stoneridge Prep to practicing at USC has been overwhelming at times.

“It’s not like high school anymore,” he said. “You have to do everything right.”

Diarra has faced an even more daunting challenge in the classroom. The native of Mali, a West African country of nearly 12 million, didn’t speak much English before enrolling at USC.

“At the beginning” it was tough, said Diarra, who speaks fluent French and Bambara, the language of his native country, “but now I understand most of it. I have a lot of tutoring.”

Diarra’s teammates said they have no trouble communicating with the center, who has already demonstrated proficiency on the defensive end of the court.

Diarra spent his first 17 years in Mali before moving to France for nearly three years and then enrolling at Stoneridge, where he spent his junior and senior years of high school. At 21, Diarra is the second-oldest Trojan, trailing only the 22-year-old Taj Gibson.