Cherif Diarra came to Putnam Science Academy with a name to uphold. His older brothers, Mamadou and Hassan, are two of the Mustangs’ all-time top players. While Cherif didn’t leave the school in that category, he did just fine for himself and the family name.
The 6-foot, 6-inch bully of a big man announced in late May that he was accepting a scholarship offer and committing to play basketball at Southern Connecticut State University starting in the fall.
“Cherif was a legacy player for us,” said PSA coach Tom Espinosa. “Honestly, when we were drawing it up before the season started, we thought he was going to be one of the last guys on our bench, not play a whole lot. But right from the start of workouts and practices, he changed what we thought we were getting. As soon as we got on the court, he made it clear that he was going to be a player for us. I think Southern is going to find out pretty quickly that they have someone who will help them right away too.”
Diarra said SCSU coaches quickly built a good relationship with him, his family, and his mentor, and that “I know this is where I belong. We talked about my role up there and that there are minutes to be earned. But that’s it; they’ve got to be earned. It’s all about my effort and how hard I work. That’s fine with me; I always want to work hard. It’s how you play the game.”
Diarra played every game, coming off the bench in all but four of them. Early on, Espinosa said, he earned the right to start but because he was so mentally tough, he could handle the bench role better than others might. He finished the year averaging 3.1 points and 6.0 rebounds per game, the latter of which was second-best on a Mustangs team that went 18-3 in the start-and-stop pandemic season.
“Cherif’s contributions to our season go beyond his numbers,” Espinosa said. “He’s got a real high basketball IQ, which you have to watch to see that— one of the best in those terms that we’ve had. He brought us toughness, he was great in the locker room, he always did what we asked.”
Diarra said he has never really thought much about following in his brother’s footsteps. He said their paths are different and he has to do what he has to do. What he had to do was a little tougher than what they experienced on the recruiting trail. Because he rates so highly on the things that are easier to see in person than simply on film, Diarra’s recruitment had trouble gaining traction.
“It was tough,” he said. “I was getting a little frustrated at times because coming to PSA got me the best exposure and best opportunities, but coaches couldn’t come to practice or games and watch what I can do. It’s OK though. It’s all good now. I’m really happy with where I’m going. My emotions were just joy and happiness. I’ve waited a long time for this and now I’m ready to move on to the next chapter.”
By Stephen Nalbandian
Sports Information Director
Putnam Science Academy


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