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As 30,331 fans packed the Carrier Dome Wednesday night to watch the Orange’s heart-stopping, buzzer-beating win against Duke, one very interested spectator was glued to the TV.

Class of 2017 Syracuse signee Bourama Sidibe hoped to attend the Duke game with his St. Benedict’s Prep Gray Bees coach, Mark Taylor. When their plans fell through, Sidibe wound up watching it from the comfort of his dormitory in Newark, NJ, rooting on his future team and excitedly texting his coach throughout the instant classic.

So far this season, Sidibe, a 6-foot-10 forward/center from Mali in West Africa has led the Gray Bees to a 26-4 record and their third straight New Jersey State Prep A Championship. Every year he’s been at Benedict’s, they’ve taken home that hardware.

A dominant presence on both ends, Sidibe has elevated his game against extremely tough competition. For the season, the big man with the 7-foot-3 wingspan is averaging 14.2 points per game, 10.5 rebounds, 1.2 assists and a whopping 2.6 blocks per game.

Looking at his numbers a little deeper, he’s shooting 53% from the field (1-for-5 on 3’s) but only 59% from the foul line. Bourama gets to the line quite a bit, too, so that needs to get better.

One number that jumps off the stats sheet is his offensive rebounding. An extraordinary 47% of his total rebounds have been on the offensive end. Watching Syracuse get outworked on the glass this year, Sidibe’s rebounding prowess will be welcomed with open arms.

Last week in the prep title game against perennial state powerhouse Blair Academy, Sidibe netted 18 points, snatched 17 rebounds and saved his biggest play for the game’s biggest moment.

Bourama’s teammates were struggling from the foul line. They couldn’t salt the game away, missing free throw after free throw. There was concern on the Gray Bees’ bench it would cost them the game. With six seconds left and the Gray Bees clinging to a two point lead, Sidibe sky-walked for an offensive rebound off another missed foul shot, then was fouled and drained one free throw to solidify a 47-44 win. Sidibe went 6-of-7 from the foul line, while his teammates were just 6-of-17.

It’s the kind of player Sidibe has been all year for St. Benedict’s, alma mater of Syracuse one-and-done great Tyler Ennis and numerous other Division 1 players. Big time performances in huge wins over national powers like Montverde Academy (FL) and Oak Hill Academy (VA) have been the norm for the soft-spoken Sidibe.

As the season winds down, we asked coach Taylor to give us a progress report on his emerging big man. Taylor is in frequent contact with the Syracuse coaches, especially assistant coach Gerry McNamara, and also a good deal with head coach designate Mike Hopkins. He knows what they are looking for and how Sidibe can get ready to contribute in a brutal ACC.

Taylor gushed about Sidibe’s ability to play up to the level of his competition.

“[Bourama’s] last month of basketball has been at such a high level, it’s unbelievable,” Taylor said. “He’s really accelerated his game, which you can’t teach. The bigger the game, the bigger he plays. He dominated against Montverde. He dominated against Sunrise Christian (Academy Elite-KS). Then we played Oak Hill and he a bad first half. He came out in the second half and he scored 12 points in the fourth quarter, and scored those 12 points against a guy going to Kansas [former Syracuse target and 2017 McDonald’s All-American Billy Preston].”

St. Benedict’s played a mix of 2-3 zone and man defense against Oak Hill. When in zone, Sidibe played the wing on the back line. In man, he guarded the dynamic Preston, a versatile scorer. Bourama shut him down.

How?

“Bourama’s more athletic than people think. He runs great. He’s wiry strong. He’s stronger than people give him credit for and his footwork is very good. [Preston] didn’t get to the rim. He hit one 3-pointer early. He only had 5 points in the game, so [Preston] was a non-factor,” Taylor said.

Preston not getting to the rim against Sidibe is impressive. Preston posterizes guys on a regular basis.

Sidibe can play defense. There’s no debating that. He is an elite shot blocker. But Taylor was quick to gush about his senior’s expanding offensive repertoire. “He can finish with his left and right hand. He proved that against Blair, too. He went inside on them and against Oak Hill.”

Taylor expanded on that: “Bourama made two drop steps and two up and under moves in the Blair game against Deng Gak [Blair Academy senior big man and University of Miami commit]. He finished and got to the line. We’ve really focused on that and Bourama’s improving drastically.”

“He can finish in the post,” Taylor said with emphasis.

Watching Sidibe play this year, it looks like his shot release is a little low and a little slow. Taylor isn’t buying that evaluation.

“Bourama has not had a problem getting his shot off. He’s also so much faster than people give him credit for. If they come up on him, he goes right by them. He went right by the big guys at Oak Hill. He went right by Gak. He couldn’t stop him.”

Taylor sees what Bourama needs to work on: “The thing we are trying to teach him is patience and timing. When I say timing, picking your spot. Every time you touch the ball, you don’t have to shoot the ball. You have to learn to identify the situation. Let the cutters move, so the help [defense] is moved. If the double team comes, rotate the ball. If it doesn’t, now make the move and get to the rim. And he’s getting better at that.”

Thin but deceptively strong at around 220 pounds, Sidibe certainly has room for a little more muscle and Taylor doesn’t think it will be an issue.

“I have no concern. Syracuse will put that weight on him and the zone helps drastically with that. His length, speed and athleticism will carry him. The weight will come. He’ll go up there in May. I need to talk to Gerry and Hop a little more about that but that’s our plan. And from May to November he’ll put on easily 10-20 pounds. They’ll bulk him up.”

Getting up to Syracuse early this spring will be a huge benefit. So now we have a good idea of Sidibe’s planned timeline.  That’s good.

Now about coach Jim Boeheim’s own timeline. When will Boeheim hang up his whistle and will Syracuse stick to the Hopkins succession plan with Hopkins taking the reins after next season? That’s the impression Taylor and Sidibe have been given.

“Next year, Boeheim will be there and after that it’s probably going to be… looks like Hopkins. They’re grooming him to take over right now. That’s the indication we have,” Taylor said.

Taylor thinks Hopkins will take over in the 2018-19. He thinks Sidibe will make an impact at Syracuse even sooner.

“He’s really looking forward to it. The way he’s playing in the zone, he’s going to play next year. I’m telling you right now. He will be on the court.”

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