Don’t mistake Mohamed Diallo’s kindness for weakness. If you line up across from him, he’s likely going to beat you.
The Academy at Palumbo senior has a knack for coming out on top, whether it’s basketball, football or even video games. Just don’t expect him to brag about it.
“I wouldn’t say I win all the time, but it’s very fun to win,” Diallo said with a smile. “And that’s the whole goal that we want to encourage people here. It’s fun to win in a fashionable manner and be humble about it.”
His humble nature is why Diallo is a well-liked and much-respected leader of the Griffins basketball program, which has become one of the top teams in the Public League. Academy at Palumbo had a 4-1 Public League record after a convincing 67-14 win over South Philadelphia High School on Jan. 6. Diallo doesn’t often finish at the top of the score sheet in points, but he excels in all the things that help a team end up in the win column.
“He’s so service- and leadership-oriented,” said Palumbo coach Frank Schneider. “He really doesn’t care if he scores. He just loves to celebrate the success of others.”
It helps having a few of his best buddies on the team who can really put the ball in the net as the team’s two top scorers. Fellow seniors Ayyub Noble (14.4 points per game) and Omar Hutchings (10.1) are incredibly talented scorers who also oftentimes benefit from the Griffins’ team game, led by Diallo’s leadership.
“It’s almost like he’d rather see those guys score 30,” Schneider said. “That makes him happy. His whole career, he’s been selfless.”
Diallo doesn’t mind his role one bit.
“I’m one of the older guys and I don’t score much but I do all the dirty work,” Diallo said. “I step in the paint and take a charge. I do what we need. It’s just not on the stat sheet. It’s fun to watch my teammates score.”
It’s just a preference. Diallo could score, too, if needed. And he proved during football season that he was a naturally gifted athlete, receiving All-Public League honors at wide receiver despite not playing his freshman or sophomore season. He played football in his youth as a way to shed weight before switching to his love of basketball in seventh grade.
“I played football for a while because I was really overweight and I used football to slim down,” Diallo said. “But as I got older, I tended to go away from football because it was very violent. I liked basketball a lot more.”
Diallo said his friends convinced him to get back on the gridiron during his junior year and he played alongside Samad Torrence (wide receiver) and Gabriel Smalley (quarterback), who both also received All-Public honors in football. All three play basketball together in the winter with added chemistry from football. The individual honors were just a bonus.
“I was just out there playing,” Diallo said. “My goal wasn’t to be All-Public. I don’t think anyone’s goal is to go out and win individual accolades. I just went out and played and I wanted to win.”
And he competes just as hard in the classroom. Diallo has a 3.3 grade point average and hopes to join the medical field someday after studying physical therapy in college. His father is a physical therapist and his sister is studying nursing in college.
“Everyone in my family does something in the medical field and physical therapy lets me stay close to basketball,” Diallo said.
He’s following one family and leading another.
“Our team, from top to bottom, communicates together,” Diallo said. “We all want to see everybody on the team win. That’s what I really enjoy about this team.”
The same can’t be said when team members log in to play NBA 2K, and Diallo’s modesty tends to disappear.
“I beat everybody on the team,” Diallo said with a laugh. “We’ll go 1V1 a lot, but some of the time, we’re on a team together, so we build chemistry like that as well.”
The chemistry started early for the Griffins despite many of the current players not seeing much of the floor until this year due to a logjam of talent in the program. Palumbo graduated six seniors last spring, which finally opened the door for Diallo and others to excel.
“Last year, Mohamed wasn’t getting the minutes that a player of his caliber should be getting,” Schneider said. “He did not care. He probably cared from a competitive standpoint but as far as body language and attitude, he was team-oriented. He’s just a humble kid.”