Updated: Aug 29, 2019
Sidy Sissoko was born and raised in Bamako, Mali's capital city. At the age of 10, he lost his father to violence resulting from the country's political unrest. At 16, his family sent him to the United States with the hope that his basketball skills might earn him the opportunity to receive a quality education and a chance for a better life. Now, at 21, Sidy is attending Cloud County Community College in Concordia, Kansas, on a basketball scholarship.
At 6'9", with broad shoulders and a powerful athletic build, Sidy could be seen as an imposing figure, but usually, what most people notice first is his gigantic smile. After that, they are most often taken with his irrepressible optimism, his unfailing good humor, the delight he takes in all of life's pleasures, from the simplest to the grandest, and his unyielding determination to improve himself. One or all of these traits are usually more than enough to endear him to everyone he meets. This is a story about a West African boy who journeys to the United States with the hope of bettering his and his family's lives, and about all the friends he gathers along the way.
Sidy's U.S. adventure begins with a central figure in his basketball odyssey, Philippe Doherty, the founder and director of Prolific Prep, an elite, international, high school, basketball academy in Napa, California. Philippe's father served in the Peace Corp, and Philippe spent the first 9 years of his life in Western Aftica, in Sierra Leone. The Prolific Prep Director still has ties to the region, and so in the summer of 2014, when he received the call from a friend of a friend about a 6'7", sixteen year old, Mali boy whose only hope for an education and a real future might be playing basketball in the U.S., he felt an obligation to help.
By that time of the year, his own team at Prolific Prep was already full, but Philippe was able to secure a full scholarship for Sidy at Archbishop Riordan High School which has student dorms and provides scholarships for both domestic and international students. He arranged for a flight, and met Sidy for the first time when the young Mali scholar-athlete arrived at SFO by way of Casablanca and New York. Philippe's mother is French, and he was born in Paris so between his mom's influence and the setting of his childhood, he speaks fluent French which also happens to be Mali's national language. Naturally, as they were becoming acquainted, the two spoke mostly in French, and so Philippe failed to notice Sidy's very limited English language skills. Unfortunately, this would soon become a problem.
Philippe delivered Sidy to Riordan making all the necessary introductions and satisfying himself that his young, Mali charge was properly settled in. At first, everything seemed to be going wonderfully. On his second day at Riordan, the students just happened to be holding a fundraiser for needy children in West Africa, and with his limited English, Sidy mistook this serendipitous event as a personal benefit for himself. He was overcome with emotion at the generosity and hospitality of his fellow students and his new school. Unfortunately, his joy would be short lived.
By Sidy's second week at Riordan, it became apparent that his English skills were so limited that it was not possible for him to continue in the school's academic curriculum, and Riordan simply lacked the resources to properly accommodate an English language learner, let alone adequately supervise one who would be attending a completely different school. Sidy would not be able to continue at Riordan. When Philippe Doherty received the bad news, he scrambled to find another program for Sidy, but already two weeks into the Fall Semester, there simply wasn't anything available. Just when the situation appeared completely hopeless, up stepped the amazing Galindo Family.
Eric Galindo, then a junior at Archbishop Riordan, was Sidy's shadow for orientation, and he was also one of his teammates on Riordan's Varsity Basketball Team. Being the person Sidy knew best, the young African exchange student came to him in desperation with his plight. Eric felt that he needed to do something to help his new friend, and so he presented the situation to his mother and father, Lizette and Luis Galindo. They shared their son's sympathies and agreed to let Sidy stay with them until the situation was sorted out. Mr. Galindo, himself a proud Riordan grad and an active member of its alumni, admits he initially thought that there was a misunderstanding which would be sorted out, and that their arrangement with Sidy would last only a couple of weeks. However, when it became clear that there were no other options for Sidy, the Galindos doubled down on their commitment to the forlorn, Mali teenager.
As the Galindo Family made Sidy feel welcome in their home, Luis Galindo hustled to find a school for Sidy. He struck paydirt with Leadership High School in San Francisco where they welcomed Sidy not only as an English language learner, but also as a member of the Griffin's Varsity Basketball Team. Luis observed from the start that the newest member of the Galindo household had a strong work ethic. The West African teen applied himself with equal vigor to his academic studies and his basketball training. Intent on bettering his English speaking ability, of his own accord, Sidy researched English Language classes at C.C.S.F., and he enrolled in the college's evening courses.
Despite Sidy's imposing frame and stoic demeanor, the Galindos were ever aware that he was still a boy who was half a world away from his mother and two younger sisters, from his friends and community in Bamako, and from his Mali culture. They did everything in their power to make their newest family member feel at home and ease his pangs of longing for his native land in Africa. Eric and Sidy grew close becoming more like brothers than just friends, and when Eric's older brother Christian would return home on his frequent visits from Santa Clara University, the three were inseparable.
A real turning point came when Sidy met Luis Galindo's father, Luis Galindo Sr. The senior Galindo knew first hand of the immigrant experience in the United States. Born in Durango, Mexico, he had also migrated to this country as a youth, and he had also struggled to master the English language. The two unlikely compatriots hit it off immediately, and became very close friends. In 2016, when Luis Sr. passed away, Sidy took the loss very hard, but he was honored when he was asked to serve as one of his good friend's and adopted grandfather’s pallbearers.
Yet, in the summer of 2015, all seemed rosy. Although he missed his mother and sisters back home in Mali, he and the Galindos were growing more and more comfortable with each other. In his first year at Leadership High, Sidy had performed well both in the classroom and on the basketball court, and his English was steadily improving. Then Sidy's journey hit another road bump, a big one. While playing A.A.U. basketball that summer, he tore the A.C.L. in his right knee.
When Philippe Doherty heard the bad news, he reached out to MAD's Director John Murray. In addition to being familiar with Murray's work with Stanford University and the Golden State Warriors, Philippe had hired Murray to do some consulting for Prolific Prep in the area of injury rehabilitation and injury prevention training. At the time of Sidy's injury, Murray was just starting MAD, and he also served as the Head Exercise Physiology Specialist for Arthur J. Ting, M.D., Orthopedic Surgery and Sports Medicine in Fremont, CA. Once Philippe familiarized Murray with Sidy and his situation, Dr. Ting's H.E.P.S. broached the doctor on the young athlete's behalf, and as is his usual custom in such circumstances, Dr. Ting agreed to treat the youngster for free.
Dr. Arthur J. Ting, M.D. is one of the pre-eminent orthopedic surgeons in the world, and when it comes to sports injuries, he is pretty much at the top of the food chain. He has successfully repaired the likes of Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Barry Bonds, and Michael Jordan, and yet, for every sports superstar he operates on, there are a dozen young athletes of modest circumstances for whom he provides his services at little or no cost. At his surgical center in Fremont, he also has an extensive physical therapy facility; nobody knows better than Dr. Ting that all his magic in the operating theater will go for naught without the proper follow-up P.T. So after expertly repairing Sidy's knee, Doc Ting made sure Sidy received the full complement of physical therapy with his H.E.P.S. John Murray.
During Sidy's post-surgical rehab, he and John Murray struck up a friendship, and after Sidy completed his physical therapy for his repaired knee, MAD's Director invited him to become his fledgling company's first scholarship athlete. Sidy trained with Murray and his staff for free, and Murray also supplied him with nutritional supplements and some equipment, mostly shoes. The young Mali hooper quickly became a favorite with MAD coaches and trainees alike.
Once when Sidy needed some new basketball shoes, Murray appealed to his friend, renowned NBA Coach Phil Handy. Murray and Handy became friends when Murray was consulting with the Skyline Junior College Men's Basketball team, and Handy was a member of the team. Murray then trained Handy during his pro career, and the two have since collaborated on ventures to improve the level of youth basketball instruction in the Bay Area. Whenever Handy is in the Bay Area, he conducts basketball skills clinics with MAD. At the time, Coach Handy was with the Cleveland Cavaliers, and he administered all of the sports programs under LeBron James' Foundation. When Sidy received a couple of boxes and opened them to find two pairs of Lebrons both autographed by James himself, he became apoplectic. You would have thought he had just won the lottery. They became his prized possessions. For the next two weeks, he would not let those shoes out of his sight; he carried those two boxes with him everywhere he went.
Upon Sidy's graduation from Leadership High, Philippe Doherty secured a spot for his old friend at Bridgton Academy in Maine. Bridgeton is a fifth year program which helps high school grads fine tune their athletic and academic skills before moving on to college. All involved agreed that as an English language learner, this would be best for Sidy. Bridgeton was a positive experience for Sidy. Head Coach Whit Lesure took him under his wing and became an important mentor to him.
The following year, Philippe delivered again with a full basketball scholarship for Sidy at Sheridan Community College in Sheridan, Wyoming. Unfortunately, there were too many freshman in one class and so playing time was limited. Never one to be satisfied for anything less than the optimum opportunities for his players, Philippe got on the phone and found another basketball scholarship for Sidy at Cloud County Community College in Concordia, Kansas.
Cloud County Community College plays in the Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference, one of the nation's most competitive junior college conferences. This year Sidy played for Cloud, and despite the tough opposition, the team has remained competitive posting a 15-14 record. Sidy has made big contributions to the team starting several games, and Thunderbirds' Coach Jordan Altman even called Philippe to thank him and tell him how pleased he was with Sidy's performance this season. Sidy has also been taking advantage of the academic opportunities at Cloud. Last semester he carried a 20 unit load and earned all A's and B's.
Each summer and during Christmas breaks, Sidy returns to San Francisco where he works out with MAD and lives with his U.S. family, the Galindos. Luis Galindo says that he and Lizette don't just consider Sidy to be their son, Sidy "is" their son every bit as much as Christian and Eric. This past Christmas, with Sidy home from Cloud College, and Eric home from Stanford, Christian came over, and the three young men were all home for the holidays. They enjoyed hanging out together, kicking about, and attending a Thundercats’ concert.
More than once in the Galindo household, Sidy had heard Luis proclaim that everyone had to pull his own weight. Sidy took this admonition to heart, and upon graduating from Leadership High, Sidy got a job at one of San Francisco's most authentic Mexican restaurants, San Jalisco. He loved the place. He loved the owners, he loved his coworkers, he loved the patrons, and especially he loved the food. Naturally, they all fell in love with Sidy too. Now every return trip home San Francisco requires a Galindo Family pilgrimage to San Jalisco where Sidy reminisces with his old friends and enjoys his favorite dishes, the carne asada super burrito with red sauce and nachos with cheese and jalapeños.
It cannot be denied that Sidy has experienced an unbelievable run of luck in stumbling upon the likes of the Galindo Family, Philippe Doherty, Dr. Arthur J. Ting M.D., John Murray et al. At the same time, despite his good fortune, one cannot overlook the fact that he has confronted and overcome a series of challenges and obstacles, many of which might have sunk a native born adult let alone a youth from half way around the world, and he has accomplished all this while remaining unusually upbeat. All this begs the question,”What makes Sidy tick?”
When posed this question, MAD Head Coach Eric Bringas responded, “If I had to sum up Sidy in one word, I would have to say determination. I have never seen a more determined individual in all my life.” Neil “Soldier” Beran, now a senior at Sacred Heart Cathedral Prep, is one of Sidy’s MAD workout buddies, and the two have become good friends. He believes Sidy’s secret lies in his positive attitude and in his work ethic. “Sidy always sees the best in every situation. He’s just a good, hard working dude.”
According to Sidy himself, the answer lies in a single word, hope. Sidy explains, “Back home in Mali, there is no hope. All the problems I have to deal with here that is what it is like just to get through each day in Mali, and still there is no hope. Here, in this country, there is hope.”
If the same question were put to any of Sidy’s benefactors in the U.S., they would probably be taken aback. They do what they do because that is who they are. For them their charitable acts are synonymous with breathing. They each have a vision of how the world should be, and they live their lives in order to fulfill that vision.
The Galindo Family is clearly in a league of its own, but Dr. Arthur J. Ting M.D. is not far behind. He provides medical care to dozens of young athletes annually whose families lack the means to pay for such services. Dr. Ting not only donates his services, he also shoulders considerable costs incurred by each patient. He has to pay for the other surgeons, the anesthesiologist, the radiologist, the nurses, the medical techs, the physical therapists and for all the necessary medicines and medical equipment.
Philippe Doherty and his brothers seemed to have inherited their parents’ philanthropic genes, and there is a wonderful article in the Napa Valley Times about how they have all devoted their lives to coaching young athletes. At any point in time, Philippe is helping countless young athletes pursue their dreams, and not all of them are enrolled in his academy, Prolific Prep. Remember, Sidy has never played a second for any of Philippe’s teams, and yet not only has he exhausted his networks and expertise to generate opportunities for Sidy, he has covered the costs of his flights and living expenses. Sidy’s scholarship at Bridgton Academy included all expenses except $4500 per semester. Philippe picked up the tab for the first semester, and for the second semester, he prevailed upon MAD’s Director John Murray and Sidy’s A.A.U. Coach Randy Bessela who gladly helped cover the cost.
At Murray Athletic Development, every clinic and program has spaces reserved for scholarship athletes. As long as room is available, no athlete is turned away due to a lack of financial resources. Every day John Murray and his coaches at MAD train athletes who but for their MAD scholarships, would be unable to participate in MAD’s curriculum. Some of these kids are dedicated athletes, but many are the friends or siblings of such athletes, who without their scholarships, might not frequent a gym.
Initially these kids come tagging along with their athlete friends, but then they find themselves drawn to MAD’s culture, its comradery, its mentorship, and its structure. As long as they are willing to work, they are welcome to stay. Director Murray believes that just like MAD’s athletes who are pursuing athletic careers on some level, the skills, discipline, and confidence they develop from their MAD training also will help these other kids succeed in all aspects of their lives.
Sidy Sissoko’s story is inspirational because it offers a real example of an individual who believes in his potential to achieve, and then, overcoming turmoil and multiple obstacles, he succeeds. Sidy’s story is also uplifting because it shows one example after another of people who share this faith in human potential, and who go the extra mile to support young people who are trying to improve their own lives. Sidy, together with his supporters, are a source of hope for all of us.