Pistons’ Hamidou Diallo gives back to Flint community with ‘Hami Day’ basketball camp

Detroit News

Flint — Nearly 80 children were sitting in the middle of the basketball court inside of Flint Northwestern High School’s gymnasium when Pistons guard Hamidou Diallo made his long-awaited entrance.

The 2019 NBA slam dunk contest champion received a warm welcome from the large collective of kids, who were there Friday morning for “Hami Day,” Diallo’s annual two-day summer basketball camp. He answered questions, took pictures and played one-on-one with a handful of campers.

It was the next stop on Diallo’s recent run of community-based events after spending last week hosting a backpack giveaway and bowling night in his hometown of Queens, New York.

Diallo, who’s entering his third season with the Pistons, said he wants to make an impact on as many children and families as possible. He noted that it’s important for NBA players to show the youth, especially those who grew up in inner cities, that success is obtainable no matter where they come from.

“This is better than having that great game that you imagine as a kid,” Diallo told The Detroit News. “As a kid, this is the type of impact that I wanted growing up and being able to do it for as many kids as I can around the world is just a blessing.”

The camp was organized by Flint Community Schools, Fresh Flint, Flint United and the Hamidou Diallo Foundation. Campers received school supplies, lunch and even free haircuts, along with several opportunities to interact with Diallo.

“Working in the city of Flint, the Pistons organization is a huge influence,” said Kevin Mays, owner of Flint United. “The Gores family, being from the city of Flint and being able to have the athletes and players come back and tap in is major. We’re learning a lot about Hami over the last year or so, and learning his affinity and love for community…and hopefully we can build some community for him in the city of Flint.”

Among the many in attendance for Diallo’s basketball camp were Pistons assistant general manager Rob Murphy and Pistons legend Earl Cureton, who spent most of the morning teaching basketball drills.

Cureton, a two-time NBA champion, emphasized the importance of basketball camps, especially since most children weren’t able to take advantage of them due to cancellations over the past two years because of COVID-19.

“It’s great because they don’t always get an opportunity to go to the games,” Cureton told The News. “They don’t get an opportunity to get that close to a professional athlete. I know when I was young, it meant a lot to me. I saw Bob Lanier when I was a kid at a camp. He was 6-foot-11 and came to my recreational center and I got a chance to talk to him and then ended up playing with him, some years later.

“It can be inspiring when you get an opportunity to see professional athletes. They watch them on television. They see them in commercials and all those things all the time, but it’s something else when you get a chance to see them up close and in person. It’s a real positive thing.”

Offseason work

Diallo is coming off his fourth year in the league and he averaged 11 points and 4.8 rebounds for the Pistons last season. Detroit exercised Diallo’s team option this offseason, so the 6-foot-5 guard will join a crowded backcourt group that includes Cade Cunningham, Jaden Ivey, Killian Hayes, Alec Burks and Cory Joseph.

It is unclear where Diallo will fall in the Pistons’ lineup, but he’s looking forward to growing with Detroit’s bevy of young players.

“We got good pieces. We got good talent and now we just got to put it together and win some games,” Diallo said. “Everything looks good on paper, but we got to put it together and win some games. Only people that can do that is us.”

Asked what part of his game he’s worked on during the offseason, Diallo said every part of it, offensively and defensively.

“We hear the chatter, we hear what the people want, we hear what the world thinks so we hear everything,” Diallo said. “I’m just in the lab trying to get better each and every day, trying to build this chemistry with this young team we got coming in and, most importantly, just trying to do whatever I can on the court to help us win some games. That’s the biggest objective.”

Last Piston to wear No. 6

The sports world lost one of the greatest basketball players in NBA history on July 31 when 11-time champion and civil rights activist Bill Russell died at the age of 88.

The NBA announced earlier this month that Russell’s No. 6 jersey would be retired throughout the league, but players who currently wear the number would be grandfathered.

Diallo is one of 25 players who wore the No. 6 during the 2021-22 season.

“First off, just touching on Bill, my condolences to his family, of course,” Diallo said. “With a great player like that, what he’s done for the league and what he’s done for the culture, it’s nothing like it. He’s the type of person that we hope that these kids want to become, not only on the basketball court. I just let that sink in.”

Former Pistons to wear the number includes Ben Wallace, who wore the uniform number when he returned to the franchise in 2009 until his retirement, Josh Smith and Bruce Brown.

When asked about his status as the final member of the Pistons to ever wear the number, Diallo appreciated the honor but said there’s a lot more work to do, individually and as a collective.

“Being the last (No.) 6 as a Detroit Piston, it’s honorable, but it just shows that there’s a lot more work to do,” Diallo said. “I feel like I got to go out with a bang and I got to put in the work. There’s just a lot more work to do, not only for me, for us as a whole organization. I feel like we all have that hunger. That hunger is going to turn into fuel and let’s just put it all together.”

When he was a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder, Diallo won the 2019 NBA slam dunk contest, defeating the likes of former NBA point guard Dennis Smith Jr., Flint native Miles Bridges and Hawks forward John Collins.

Diallo’s most memorable dunk was an explosive one-handed jam over the 7-foot-1 Shaquille O’Neal, with an ode to Vince Carter by sticking his elbow inside the rim.

Diallo said he met Russell after he won the dunk contest and the two had a conversation.

“I actually got to sit down and talk (with Russell) for a little bit,” Diallo said. “Pretty dope guy, dope person and he always showed love. That’s the biggest thing.”

mcurtis@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @MikeACurtis2

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