by John Torsiello
Amadou Sidibe ’16 says there is one overarching goal he has set for himself as a student-athlete at Fairfield University — to have started college a teenager and leave it as a man.
Men’s Head Basketball Coach Sydney Johnson believes his sophomore forward is well on his way to his goal, maybe even achieving it already. That’s why he named the him a team captain (along with senior Maurice Barrow), even though Sidibe is only in his second year of college and was still a teen when the 2013-14 season began.
“Amadou was a clear choice to be named a captain because he displayed all of the attributes that leaders exhibit,” said Johnson. “He earned the respect of his teammates by being one of the hardest workers and one of the most selfless teammates in the program. It was an easy choice.”
Johnson believes leaders have a certain “essence” that isn’t necessarily determined by age. “Although Amadou is still maturing and learning what methods work best in leadership, I trust the decisions he will make as a leader through the team’s highs and lows,” he said. “That trust is based on Amadou’s character… his age (20) is just a number.”
Sidibe didn’t take the traditional path to becoming a Division I basketball player. Born in Brooklyn, Sidibe’s parents sent him to live with relatives in the African country of Ivory Coast from the ages of three to eight. He returned home to the U.S. during the summers.
“My parents wanted me to understand where I had come from, where my heritage was,” said Sidibe. “I lived with my relatives and got to know my grandparents, cousins, uncles, and aunts. It was a great experience — it changed me, and taught me about having a sense of community and family that has stayed with me.”
But there were also challenges. Sidibe grew up speaking French, the national language of the western African nation, and developed a set of friends in Ivory Coast he had to leave behind when he returned to live fulltime with his parents at the age of eight. He struggled to adapt to life back in the U.S.
“I left my friends behind, was speaking French, and felt like I didn’t fit in here,” he said. But Sidibe found one important way to fit in when he put down a soccer ball and picked up a slightly larger ball.
“Soccer is big in Africa but there really aren’t many places to play sport in the Bronx. But there are a lot of basketball courts, so I started to play basketball. I wasn’t very good at it and got picked last by the friends that I had finally made as I grew older. I got sick of being picked last, so I worked at the game and got pretty good at it. I was tall for a kid, and that helped.”
Because there wasn’t a boys team at the middle school he attended, the coach (one of his teachers) allowed Sidibe to practice with the girls team. He continued to improve and grow and made the team at Cardinal Hayes High School.
As he grew to 6’8” and weighed in at over 200 pounds, Sidibe averaged a double-double with 15 points and 12 rebounds per game his senior season. He also showed his defensive prowess with three blocks a game. At that point, he was on Coach Johnson’s radar.
“The first thing I noticed about Amadou was his aggression and passion on the basketball court. As I got to know him more, I was equally impressed with Amadou’s integrity and maturity.”
Sidibe made an immediate impact on in the Stags’ program. The forward collected MAAC Co-Rookie of the Year honors and picked up a berth on the MAAC All-Rookie team, joining teammate Marcus Gilbert. He led the team in rebounding with 6.2 a contest and was one of the team’s most accurate shooters with a .527 field goal percentage.
Sidibe started his first year as a reserve before getting his first start against Fordham in the NIT preseason tournament. He responded with his firstdouble-digitperformance, netting10points and adding eight rebounds against the Rams. Two games later, he tallied his first doubledouble with 11 points and 11 rebounds against DePaul as a reserve. He registered a career-best 12 points and 11 rebounds against Loyola of Maryland at home. He would surpass that with 13 caroms against Manhattan on Feb. 12 and Saint Peter’s in the MAAC tournament.
As a sophomore, Sidibe had a bit of a slow start, as he battled a case of tendonitis and adjusted to the responsibilities of being a captain, although he was rounding into form by midseason. Sidibe said he relishes the role of captain.
Said Johnson, “Amadou’s teammates love him. Whether he’s grabbing a tough rebound, talking to the freshmen about improving their focus, laughing at a teammate’s joke, or simply being reliable every day, Amadou has the respect and admiration of his fellow student-athletes and coaches.”
Sidibe, who likes to play video games, watch movies, and chill with his friends when he isn’t playing or practicing, feels at home at Fairfield. “This is the type of school I wanted to go to. I didn’t want to go to a big school. There’s a sense of community here and the religious aspect is something I enjoy. The coaches are great and I get along with them, which is another of the reasons I came here.”