Amadou Sidibe: Fairfield’s big grab from Ivory Coast

Amadou Sidibe is a self-proclaimed movie buff.

When he’s not posting up MAAC foes for Fairfield, Sidibe is likely watching a flick. He says his favorite film is Spike Lee’s “He Got Game,” starring Denzel Washington and Ray Allen.

“I know almost every line,” says Sidibe, who claims he cues up the movie two or three times each week.

The central conflict resonates with him. Sidibe was not a basketball prodigy like Jesus Shuttlesworth. His father was not a convict like Jake Shuttlesworth. But Sidibe and his father, Ibrahim, were a phone call away for seven years.

“I’m close with my dad,” Sidibe says. “[“He Got Game”] shows that no matter what happens, that father-son relationship is key.”

When Sidibe was 3 years old, his parents chose to send him from Brooklyn to their native Ivory Coast to live with aunts and uncles on Ibrahim’s side in Abidjan, the country’s de facto capital. Sidibe resided in a “big house” on the city’s outskirts, eating seafood freshly plucked from the Atlantic Ocean and spending time with relatives he had never met.

“A lot of African kids growing up [in New York] lose touch with the culture of where they come from, and my parents didn’t want that to happen to me,” he says.

“It was life-changing,” Sidibe adds. “It made me who I am today and I’m grateful for it. The family, togetherness, being a part of something of meaning.”

Sidibe describes the home environment as “normal”: “Go to school, come back, have dinner.” He says his hobbies were like those of your “typical kid.” He played on the computer, hung out with friends, watched movies. He was also a promising goalkeeper.

“I was the tallest guy so they put me at goalie,” says Sidibe, who now stands at 6-foot-8.

His parents visited in the summers, and when he was 10, Sidibe returned to live with them in the Highbridge section of the Bronx. He went to middle school at Sacred Heart.

As a seventh grader, he took a stab at basketball. “I didn’t really like it at first,” he says. But in eighth grade, one of his best friends persuaded Sidibe to try out for the team. “I made the team and fell in love with it,” Sidibe says.

As a freshman at Cardinal Hayes High School, just a few blocks southeast of Yankee Stadium, Sidibe was raw. “I was just an effort guy,” he recalls. “I didn’t know what I was doing. I went out there, go hard, foul people.”

Though Sidibe was rough around the edges, assistant coach Justin Simon recognized the forward’s potential. The two would work out together at 6:30 a.m. and then again after school.

“We always just worked on the fundamentals,” says Simon, who left Hayes for an assistant position at Yale before Sidibe’s senior year. “If you watch Amadou play now, he runs the floor, when he catches the ball in traffic he tries to get to his righty hook. We tried to keep it simple.”

Says Sidibe: “He was always positive around me. It was not as much what he said as much as it was what he did. Him waking up, he lived further away from school than I did, and he did that every morning to work me out. He had a lot of faith in me. If that wasn’t the case, he wouldn’t have done it.”

Under Simon’s guidance, Sidibe became a coveted recruit. Ibrahim, meanwhile, instilled discipline in his son, holding him out of AAU tournaments if his schoolwork was less than satisfactory.

Sidibe wasn’t advanced enough for the high ranks of college basketball, but he adjusted quickly in the MAAC. As a Fairfield freshman, he averaged 5.7 points and 6.2 rebounds per game and split Rookie of the Year honors with Manhattan’s Shane Richards.

Sidibe’s numbers have not jumped much since then. Guard play has not been Fairfield’s strength in Sidibe’s sophomore and junior years, in which he has averaged 5.6 points and 6.9 points, respectively. He’s a forward who needs his guards to set him up.

“He’s a hardworking kid,” Simon says. “He’s not flashy. Pretty much he’s content to play defense, rebound and get his points that way, running the floor and things like that.”

That commitment to hard work and doing his job was the impetus behind Sidibe’s captainship for two years at Hayes and now the last two years at Fairfield.

“It’s not by accident,” Simon says.

And while Sidibe is excited about where he could go — where basketball could take him after he graduates in 2016 — he won’t forget where he has been. He still speaks with Simon regularly. “He’s the best,” Simon says. “Amadou calls me and asks how my baby’s doing, how my wife is doing. You can’t meet a nicer kid.” But most of all, he remembers his roots, the ones he discovered living in Ivory Coast as a child.

“Overall I feel like it was the best thing that happened to me,” he says. “I’m in touch with my culture. I know where I come from.”

Fairfield making strides, but effort and execution still lacking

Fairfield head coach Sydney Johnson (front) has seen progress from his squad, but wants to see more. OBW Photo / Chris Dela Rosa
Fairfield head coach Sydney Johnson (front) has seen progress from his squad, but wants to see more. OBW Photo / Chris Dela Rosa

BROOKLYN, N.Y. – It has been almost a year since the Fairfield men’s basketball team finished with a 7-25 record, going 4-16 in MAAC play, and in that time, the Stags have made plenty of strides.

But there is still a lot more work to be done.

“Layups, free throws, wide-open shots,” said Fairfield head coach Sydney Johnson before making his way out of the Brooklyn Nets press conference room at Barclays Center after his team’s 61-59 overtime loss to Loyola Maryland.

Both teams entered the game with records below .500 — the Greyhounds at 3-7 and the Stags 4-7, respectively.

Despite having similar records, the Stags entered the game more than confident that they were going to corral the Greyhounds and enter conference play with another notch in the win column.

“Disappointed about the final result, but to play in this type of arena and have this type of exposure is pretty special, so it’s bittersweet,” said Johnson. “A great opportunity, but obviously one we felt slipped away in terms of the final result.”

The nature in which the Stags fell may have added a little bit of extra sting, as Loyola-Maryland guard Tyler Hubbard continued his stellar afternoon by making an acrobatic play along the baseline, saving the ball for an offensive rebound and tossing it to his forward Franz Rassman under the hoop for a layup that would fall with 0.9 seconds left in overtime.

The Stags held the lead for 23 minutes and 43 seconds to be exact, versus the 12:55 Loyola led and 8:22 the game was tied. During the small Loyola-Maryland runs that created such a tight game, the Stags could have imploded and let the Greyhounds run away with the game, forcing Johnson to call for better leadership from older players.

“There were a couple of times where I had to remind them how to stay together, and quite frankly I shouldn’t be doing that,” said Johnson. “Our experienced guys need to take the lead on that, and I think they will, moving forward.”

Following the game, Johnson harped on the effort put in by his team, which has now seen four of its 12 games go into overtime.

“Last two out of three games, we’ve struggled, so I can’t tell you about the overtime, I have no idea what the future holds, but I want to see my team compete this way every time we take the floor,” said Johnson when asked about the number of overtime games played.

But for all his team’s struggles with effort, Johnson’s team also struggled with execution as the stat sheet told the story of the game: Fairfield shot 34.5 percent from the field, making 19-of-55 field goals. They shot only 23.5 percent (4-17) from beyond the arc and 63 percent (17-27) from the stripe.

According to Johnson, the Stags need to go back to basics and work their way up from there.

“We’ll be able to reward ourselves, but that’s not easy, we have to work at it, we have to be mentally strong, and that’s where the regrouping part will come,” said Johnson, adding, “We have talent. We have some cohesion. We got to make sure that shows up in tough moments and that test will be next time we take the floor, against Siena.”