By 2010, Cheick Diallo already was growing too tall for soccer, but still he resisted his father's insistence that he shift to basketball.
In Mali, the West African nation where the Pelicans rookie grew up, "nobody really cares about basketball," Diallo said, and even as his parents steered him toward the game, he resisted.
"In the beginning, I was not even liking playing basketball," Diallo said as the Pelicans opened Summer League minicamp on Tuesday. "I was like, 'Oh, that's for girls. I think it's a girl's sport.' I was like, 'I don't think I can deal with this sport.'"
In the six years since, Diallo – still a relative newcomer to the sport – has come around on basketball.
Though he famously played precious few minutes as a freshman at Kansas, the high school McDonald's All-American is proving a quick study. At Tuesday's first practice, Pelicans Summer League coach Robert Pack said, Diallo picked up and executed new concepts the staff threw at him.
Diallo considered it a "good practice," he said, because he played with the kind of energy that's become his trademark, the reason, he said, that the Pelicans drafted him.
"That's what I do," Diallo said. "I just want to bring energy in games every time. I'm an energy guy, so that's what I do. I just want to come every day giving my teammates what I got."
Energy is Diallo's best attribute at this point, Kansas coach Bill Self said, adding that the 6-foot-9, 220-pound forward, who played just 7.5 minutes a game this season for the Jayhawks, is "a sponge" for coaching, willing to soak up every lesson a staff provides.
That's important, Self said, given that Diallo still is "so young in the game."
He played defense and sometimes goalie as a soccer player in Mali, but when he grew to more than 6 feet tall, his parents shifted him toward basketball. Every day, Diallo said, his mother had two orders – that he take a shower and that he go play basketball.
"That's not good," Diallo said he would think.
But the familial commitment to the game won out.
"My dad spent a lot of money, because sneakers in my country? It's really expensive," Diallo said. "So I was like, 'You know what? I have to take basketball serious.'"
Still, the language of the game is relatively new to him.
So is the actual language.
In Mali, most of the population speaks French or Bambara, and Diallo – who said he was "not even thinking" of moving to the United States at an early age – admits he wasn't serious about studying English.
He didn't start speaking it until he was a freshman at Our Savior New American School in Centereach, N.Y., which offered an English as a second language program. And he didn't feel comfortable with it until he was a sophomore.
"My freshman year, I was struggling a lot. I was getting depressed," Diallo said. "I said, 'You know what? I have to learn it, because I want to play basketball.' You have to know how to speak so you can communicate with your team and your coach."
Now that he's comfortable speaking, Diallo never wants to stop.
Teammate Buddy Hield joked after Wednesday's practice that Diallo "talks too much," and Diallo said he wants to communicate on the court – "Go right! Go left!" – on every possession.
For all that he's learned, the game still is relatively new to him. Many of his peers have had a ball in their hands since they were toddlers. He was a teenager before he first took his first steps in the sport.
But Diallo is a comfortable and adept shot-blocker – he averaged less than a block per game at Kansas, but his numbers project to 4.6 blocks per 40 minutes – and an expert at rebounding and running the floor.
He even has a 17-foot jump shot, Self said, that he didn't display at Kansas, but which wowed NBA scouts, though Diallo said Wednesday he's struggling with his shot and wants to steer away from the midrange game.
"His best ball was not this year," Self said. "His best ball is down the road. But when he gets a feel and a comfort level in what the Pelicans want, I think he's going to be a huge asset for them. I can't imagine him not impacting their culture and their team in a very positive way."
The next two weeks are a first step toward getting that comfort level.
The Pelicans have one last minicamp practice in Las Vegas on Thursday before they open play in the Las Vegas Summer League on Friday.
"Good reps" in practice are important for Diallo, Pack said, as is the opportunity to log game minutes, which he lacked at Kansas.
"He's young and raw, but his energy and his motor will get him through a lot of things," Pack said. "If you play hard, that'll get you on the court."
Diallo is ready to be there. He said he's "so excited right now" to be nearing his Summer League debut, to focus on his basketball future rather than his limited history.
"A lot of people say, 'You're young playing basketball.' I'm just like, 'I don't really care,'" Diallo said. "I just want to keep working hard every day and keep learning from my teammates, my coach, all my staff."