Dayton’s only freshman learning new things every day

Dayton’s Moulaye Sissoko, left, works with grad assistant coach Khyle Marshall, right, as Jordy Tshimanga watches during a team workout on Monday, Sept. 23, 2019, at the Cronin Center. David Jablonski/Staff
Caption
Dayton’s Moulaye Sissoko, left, works with grad assistant coach Khyle Marshall, right, as Jordy Tshimanga watches during a team workout on Monday, Sept. 23, 2019, at the Cronin Center. David Jablonski/Staff

Center from Mali a newcomer but one of team’s strongest players

Moulaye Sissoko waited a year and a half for a visa to come to the United States. The third time was the charm after he failed to get one on his first two attempts.

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Sissoko knew no English when he arrived in this country from Mali at the age 16. Three years later, he speaks fluently enough to conduct an interview with no troubles — something he did last Thursday at the University of Dayton’s Cronin Center.

“It’s a long process,” Sissoko said of learning the language. “It’s all right. I’m trying. I had to learn through movies, reading books.”

Compared to learning a new language adapting to college basketball should be easy, and Sissoko continues to make strides in his first season with the Dayton Flyers. He’s the only freshman on the 11-man roster, the only person who wasn’t with the team last season and one of five players who have never played in front of the fans at UD Arena.

Sissoko and three transfers — Ibi Watson, Rodney Chatman and Chase Johnson — should make their UD debuts at 5 p.m. Saturday in an exhibition game against Cedarville University at UD Arena.

“I’m very excited,” Sissoko said. “I like the fans. I like the atmosphere. I like everything about it: my coaches, my teammates.”

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The team’s other transfer, Jordy Tshimanga, has been sidelined with a knee injury for most of the month, so it’s unlikely he’ll play, though he’s hopeful he’ll play in the regular-season opener a week later on Nov. 9 against Indiana State.

Even though he hasn’t been practicing, Tshimanga has kept a close eye on Sissoko. The two centers are the two biggest players on the team. Tshimanga is 6-foot-11 and 248 pounds. Sissoko is 6-9 and 248.

“I really like his development so far,” Tshimanga said. “He’s coming in as a freshman when everyone else is a second year or third year or fourth year or fifth year. He’s been catching up. As a freshman, it’s hard. I remember me going through it. But he’s adapting to the system and it’s nice to see him flourish.”

Sissoko committed to Dayton a year ago this month. He started his high school career in the United States as a sophomore at Central Park Christian in Birmingham, Ala., and then spent the last two years at Lincoln Academy in Suwanee, Ga.

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Even then, Lincoln Academy coach Bryan Lippman described Sissoko as “strong as an ox,” and when he arrived at Dayton in June and started showing up in Dayton basketball photos on Twitter, fans were amazed by his size. His muscle made him look like a veteran in his first days on campus.

“I’ve always been strong,” Sissoko said, “but I wasn’t strong like this. I was kind of small coming out of Africa, but I eat a lot. I’ve been in the weight room a lot, too.”

While his physical maturity could help him earn playing time, it’s going to be difficult for the team’s only freshman to break into the rotation. Sissoko said he has learned a lot since starting practice in the summer. For example, he didn’t know much about the pick-and-roll before becoming a Flyer but now has practiced it for months.

That doesn’t mean he knows how Dayton will use him. That’s to be determined. He knows he can rebound and score in the low post, playing the four or the five. Even if he doesn’t receive many minutes this season, he plans to remain focused.

“Keep playing,” he said. “Keep practicing hard. Learn new things every day.”

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