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Getting To Know Mady Sissoko

Basketball is opening doors for him, and he is opening doors for others

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Kirthmon F. Dozier / USA TODAY NETWORK

As the ends of all the sports seasons that I follow approached, I spent more and more time thinking of ideas for TOC articles to occupy the summer months. One of the ideas I had was to interview Mady Sissoko. My selection of him, out of all the MSU basketball players, was because I thought his journey was one I personally would like to learn more about, and I imagined I could turn it into an article that you all would enjoy reading. So I reached out to the appropriate person in Michigan State’s athletic department and requested the interview. I asked if I could do a one-on-one interview with Mady, and I was open to doing it in person or over the phone/computer. Unfortunately, the department was not making student-athletes available for one-on-ones, but, as fate would have it, they told me they were planning on holding a group interview with Mady Sissoko a few days after I sent my email. Unfortunately for me it was going to be at noon on a Wednesday, or basically a time when someone with a full-time job in Detroit can’t go to East Lansing. But the guy in the athletic department did ask me what questions I had and said he would try to ask them for me, and he would send me a recording of the interview afterward.

So there I was thinking that this was just fortuitous good timing for me, and I was going to get the next best thing to getting to personally interview MSU’s international center for an article. The day after the interview occurred, I received an email with the recording. The next day after that, I came across a news article that let me know that this was not lucky timing; rather, there was a reason they were interviewing Mady Sissoko at this particular time. And that reason just reaffirmed my opinion that the journey this young man is on, one which is obviously still being written, is a most interesting one.

For those unfamiliar with his backstory by now, Mady comes from a small village in the west African nation of Mali. According to his Wikipedia page, that village is called Bafoulabé, which I could find on Google Maps. According to the recent news articles I read, he is from Tangafoya, which I did not find on the map. By chance, Mady was discovered by an American doctor doing charity work in his area, and that doctor told a high school basketball coach in Utah about him. So Mady left his family, his village, and the only existence he knew, and finished his high school years in America. Coming from an African village with no electricity or running water, this probably gave Mady almost as much shock as Brendan Fraser’s character in “Encino Man”. But the young man adapted to the new world he suddenly found himself in, continued to develop his game, and earned a scholarship to play at one of the premier college programs in the country.

That right there would have been enough to get a Disney movie made about Mady. But, as it turns out, there is more to this guy than basketball. As the years went by, Mady never forgot about the world he came from. He has been back to visit his village a couple of times since he uprooted to the United States, and he says the thing he misses most is his mother’s cooking. Always in the back of his mind was how he could give back to his village. This most recent time back, he was there to give back in a major way.

Mady’s initial thought was to just send money back to his village. Unlike his teammates, however, Mady is ineligible to receive NIL money due to the fact that he is in the U.S. on a student visa (yeah, I did not know that was a rule until I read about his project). Instead, Mady created a foundation through which he began seeking contributions. His goal was $50,000. We don’t know how much he raised, because he would not say, but it was certainly more than that. And with that money, Mady helped open a school in his village.

When Mady was growing up, there was no school in his village and he had to walk 90 minutes to school (no word if it was uphill both ways and/or in the snow). Now, the children from his village can walk five minutes. But that is not even the most amazing part. This school, which has been named the Mady Sissoko Foundation School (against Mady’s wishes, of course), is the first place in the village with electricity and running water. Mady pointed out in his interview that the running water will help prevent Malaria, something that is still prevalent in this corner of the world. The school’s four classrooms will have the capability of hosting around 200 students aged between eight and fifteen. And of course, he had a basketball net put up, along with the more familiar soccer goals.

Mady described seeing the new school as “magical” and said it had him on the verge of tears. He hopes that it will enable more kids to have the opportunities to achieve their dreams. Reading about the work this 22-year-old college student did in starting a foundation which opened a school halfway around the world has raised Mady Sissoko to the ranks of my all-time favorite Spartans. But I am not cheering for this guy to do big things on a basketball court. I think this young man has an even higher calling, and I am looking forward to seeing what more good things he can do for humanity.

Proud to have you as a Spartan, Mady!

If you are interested in donating to the Mady Sissoko Foundation, you may do so here:

Mady Sissoko Foundation