The New York flare in the NCAA Tournament this year isn’t limited to Madison Square Garden on Saturday night. Roughly 2, 521 miles west, the UConn Huskies are looking to punch their ticket to the Final Four, and among the names on their roster is transfer guard and Queens native Hassan Diarra.
Diarra is one of three New York City natives on the Huskies’ roster and making his first appearance in the Elite Eight.
The junior guard is in his first season with UConn after playing his first two college years with Texas A&M. Now he’s getting the chance to live out his dream of competing to appear on the biggest stage in college basketball with Huskies set to take on the Gonzaga Bulldogs.
“It’s been truly amazing. It’s truly a blessing,” Diarra said in a phone interview with amNewYork on Friday. “This is my first time in the NCAA Tournament out of my three years, so I’m just also grateful to be a part of it. We’re doing some very good things on the court, so it’s even better. It’s just truly amazing, truly a blessing, I get to share it with these guys and it’s fun.”
Diarra has played limited minutes for UConn during the NCAA Tournament, but averaged 2.3 points, 1.9 assists and 1.4 rebounds off the bench this season. And he’s part of a laundry list of players in this year’s tourney that can boast having played high school ball in the five boroughs.
He played his first two years of high school at Holy Cross in Queens where he was the leading scorer during that time and became a standout in the CHSAA. It was during that time that Diarra recalled crossing paths with Kansas State star Markquis Nowell and Michigan State standout Tyson Walker, both of whom played some of their high school years in the CHSAA.
“We all got a chance to play against each other and we had some good battles,” Diarra said.
But Diarra is certainly proud to see so many guys he’s played against back in the day doing well, and to be a part of a fraternity of NYC natives in this year’s tournament.
“New York is the mecca of basketball, so there are tons of players that are amazing and we get to show that this tournament,” he said.
UConn’s push to the Final Four in Houston has to go through T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, far from the friendly confines of Storrs, Conn. Or even from much closer Albany, where the Huskies played the first and second round of the tournament.
The close proximity to Queens allowed for Diarra to have some familiar faces in the crowd. Several of his former coaches were on hand as well as his brother, Diarra told amNewYork.
Saturday’s game will mark the first time the Huskies have been in the Elite Eight since 2014 after playing one of their best games of the year against Arkansas.
The opportunity to play in the NCAA Tournament has been one he’s dreamed, and so far the experience has lived up to his expectation.
“When you’re a little kid, you’re thinking oh, yeah, I want to play in the NCAA tournament,” Diarra said. “You dream about it, but I didn’t dream that it would be like this or I’d even go this far in it. It has surpassed it and it is truly a blessing. It’s truly amazing.”