Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on November 6, 2017 at 9:19 pm Contact Matthew: email@example.com | @MatthewGut21 Editor’s note: In late October, freshman forward Oshae Brissett told The Daily Orange: “Our freshmen, people don’t know how good we are.” Granted, no one knows just how good the four freshmen are yet, but in a four-part series this week, The D.O. tells you who they are.The future of the Syracuse frontcourt arrived in Spain at the age of 13 with barely a year of basketball experience to his name. Santi Lopez, a former coach, measured him at 6-foot-6 and 147 pounds. He struggled to stitch a sentence together in either Spanish or English, yet he left his home in one of the poorest countries in Africa for a better education and a shot at basketball opportunity.Flash forward seven years to fall 2017. Syracuse has not played in the NCAA Tournament in two of the past three years and, unless Sidibe and junior Paschal Chukwu protect the rim with consistency, Syracuse could miss out on the Big Dance again. Sidibe, a former three-star recruit originally from Mali in Africa, brings a presence to the Syracuse frontcourt and will play about 20 minutes per game, said head coach Jim Boeheim. In that time, the Orange will need every bit of the 20-year-old freshman’s 6-foot-10, 205-pound frame to alter shots at what is Syracuse’s most unproven and least experienced position.The Orange has lost 98 percent of its minutes at center from a year ago, per Kenpom.com, which puts the onus on Chukwu and Sidibe against some of the best frontcourts in the country. Sidibe’s experience playing competitive high school-level basketball in Spain, plus his two seasons in a premier basketball program at St. Benedict’s (New Jersey) Preparatory School, have provided him a platform on which to build.But there are plenty of legitimate questions, including whether Sidibe can adjust quickly enough to Division I basketball. At only a tad more than 200 pounds, whether he can body up more experienced collegiate players. And whether he will pose an offensive threat.AdvertisementThis is placeholder text“He’s a good player,” said SU assistant coach Allen Griffin, who works primarily with the bigs. “It’s going to be a process for him.”Sidibe’s backstory suggests he might just be able to help Syracuse hold its own in the paint. The way he guards the basket, with little emotion, belies the fierce passion for why he plays. He is driven by his family an ocean away in Africa. He said he will do everything in his power to be a productive college big. Hopefully, he said, he will play in the NBA, earn a hefty payday and send some of it back home.For now, Sidibe looks to endure this new set of challenges the way he managed his transition to Spain and then to the United States. When he arrived in Spain at 13, Sidibe learned Spanish and English while training several hours per day on the court. He had played soccer as a goalkeeper, mostly, and had only shot baskets at a “junky” court near his house for about one year, said Lopez, his coach in Spain at the Canterbury School.Sidibe lived with Lopez, his wife and his son. He learned Spanish and English at the bilingual school, adding two more languages to his repertoire of French and native Bambara. He worked out two or three times per day, spending long sessions on the court. He recalibrated his diet, which was mostly rice in Africa, to meat, pasta and paella, Lopez said. He ate meals with Lopez’s family and shared a room with his son. Sidibe gained about 50 pounds in two years, while learning two languages and the game of basketball, Lopez said.Andy Mendes | Digital Design Editor“Santi was like a father to me,” Sidibe said. “He taught me everything.”It didn’t take long for Lopez to recognize the Division I potential in Sidibe. Through mutual friends, Lopez eventually put Sidibe in touch with coaches in the U.S. In 2015, Sidibe landed at St. Benedict’s, where former SU guard and first-round draft pick Tyler Ennis graduated from in 2013.The difficulty of the initial adjustments were lessened because Sidibe had already learned English in Spain. But he had to take the SAT as well as college-level classes. St. Benedict’s suggested Sidibe stay for a “prep year,” an extra year of high school, or enroll in a junior college so that he could both learn more English and improve his SAT scores. He resisted.“Bourama is very, very, very self-conscious of being successful,” said Art Pierson, an assistant coach at St. Benedict’s. “He never gets outmatched in anything he does.”For his college application essay, Sidibe weathered multiple drafts. He wrote about his travels, leaving home for Spain at 13, then to the U.S. He wrote about how it made him more responsible and how he speaks four languages.Sidibe stowed away time to study for the SAT nearly every day and improve his scores, which were “rough” at first, said Stephanie Kranz, his math teacher. The wordiness of the test, Kranz said, did not help a student who had moved to the U.S. at age 16.One day in math class, Kranz, a Syracuse alumna, asked Sidibe to get head coach Jim Boeheim to autograph the Syracuse flag hanging in her classroom. On one of his first recruiting visits, Sidibe brought the flag with him. The day Sidibe returned, Kranz asked if Boeheim had signed it. Sidibe said no, then hung up the flag. On it was Boeheim’s signature.“I thought you said he didn’t sign it,” Kranz said.“I thought you asked if I had signed it,” Sidibe replied.As his English improved, his wit off of the court became apparent on it. Sidibe knows he is sometimes “over-quick” with the basketball. He was called for a few traveling violations in the first exhibition game last week. His strength is shot-blocking, former coaches said, while he can improve on staying firm with the ball and playing with his back to the basket. Still, he compensates for his thin build with an inner aggression and ever-evolving skill set.In a 2015 game for St. Benedict’s at Montverde (Florida) Academy, one of the top high school programs in the country, Sidibe led a near-comeback in the fourth quarter. St. Benedict’s head coach Mark Taylor said Montverde broke a full-court press three consecutive times, but there was Sidibe as the last resort. He pinned three-straight layup attempts on the backboard, each of which produced a transition basket at the other end.Later in the season, in a state playoff game, Sidibe scored 18 points and grabbed 17 rebounds against a pair of 6-foot-11 Division I commits. St. Benedict’s played one of the most difficult schedules in the country, Taylor said, but Sidibe never shied away against bigger players with more recruiting attention. In an AAU game, Sidibe stayed competitive against future No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons. Teammates began to call Sidibe, “The King,” former coaches said.Andy Mendes | Digital Design Editor“He doesn’t say anything,” said Taylor, “but boy he takes care of business at the rim.”With his ability to block shots, rebound and as he developed as a scorer, Sidibe was recruited by Memphis, UCLA, Seton Hall, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. Syracuse didn’t “get on to him” until after his junior season, later than most other schools, Taylor said. But SU assistant coach Gerry McNamara made several trips to visit him. Former assistant Mike Hopkins also made two visits and was impressed with shot-blocking ability, Taylor said.When he arrived at Syracuse, Sidibe was shy, just like he was when he first got to Spain and St. Benedict’s. But redshirt freshman forward Matthew Moyer said Sidibe broke the ice during a team trip to the Jersey Shore this summer. Sidibe cracked jokes that loosened the team and established himself as comfortable in yet another unknown territory.Meanwhile, Sidibe keeps his family at the forefront. It is the key motivator in his life. Every time he flies home to Mali, he brings with him extra clothes and uniforms for his family to wear. This summer, he spent nearly all of the money he had saved to travel back home. He paid fees to check three extra bags, which he stuffed with dozens of shirts and sneakers for his family. He knows he came “from nothing,” Lopez said, and he wants to repay his family.“What pushes Bourama is the fact that he’s so happy to be in America,” said Brandon Pierson, an assistant at St. Benedict’s. “He’s so happy to be here and make an impact and help out at home.”The transitions Sidibe has made were difficult. This one at SU will be, too. A few months into college, Sidibe doesn’t always know how to articulate what he thinks. He is learning more English and how to communicate on the court. His unpredictable life has led him from a village in Africa to Spain to central New York, where the Orange will count on the outstretched arms that got him here.“I’m excited,” Sidibe said. “I’m ready.” Comments
Former USC head football coach Steve Sarkisian is joining Alabama’s coaching staff as an offensive analyst, Alabama coach Nick Saban confirmed on Monday.Sarkisian was infamously fired at USC weeks into the 2015 season following a series of alcohol-related issues that began with a rant at the annual Salute to Troy event, where he appeared to be intoxicated. Then-Athletic Director Pat Haden gave him the axe in October after he showed up to a practice in poor condition.The 42-year-old was slated to join Fox Sports as a television analyst this season, but instead will take a job with the Crimson Tide.“We’re glad to have him as part of the organization,” Saban said to the media. “Hopefully he’ll be able to get back on his feet professionally and this will be beneficial to him.”Sarkisian will work with Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, who was also fired from USC in less-then-amicable fashion. Both Sarkisian and Kiffin also coached under Pete Carroll with the Trojans.Due to NCAA rules on staff size, Sarkisian will not be able to coach players on the field. He is the fifth former head coach to join Alabama’s coaching staff.Saban said that he and Sarkisian had discussed the role “quite a while ago.”“He’s going through some personal things himself to get himself in a very positive position and wants to continue to do those things in the future and professionally,” Saban said. “He loves coaching. I’ve known him for a long time and he’s a very, very good coach.”Saban added that Sarkisian is aware of ramifications should concerns flare up again.“I think he understands the consequences that he deals with professionally if he has any issues or problems,” Saban said.Sarkisian is still in the midst of a legal battle with USC. He filed a wrongful terminal lawsuit against the University last December, claiming the school should have allowed him to seek treatment for alcoholism rather than dismissing him. The case is headed for arbitration; Sarkisian is seeking the $12.6 million remaining on his contract in addition to unspecified damages.