After a year on the bench, Kadi Sissoko is ready to make an impact

Sissoko is the highest ranked recruit to play for the Gophers since Rachel Banham.

 Kadi Sissoko (Courtesy of University of Minnesota Athletics)

 Kadi Sissoko (Courtesy of University of Minnesota Athletics)

Paul Hodowanic

Through the ups and downs of the Gophers’ women’s basketball team’s tumultuous 2019-2020 season, Kadi Sissoko could only sit on the sideline and watch. 

The former No. 10 ranked five-star recruit from Paris, France committed to Syracuse out of high school in 2018 but quickly learned after one season in New York that she needed a new home, one she says she found immediately when she decided to transfer to the University of Minnesota last June. 

“For us, after watching a little bit of video and her play on the French national team and a little bit at Syracuse, it was a no brainer that she was going to be a very impactful player for our program,” head coach Lindsay Whalen said. 

But her impact was only seen on the practice court last season as the highly recruited and highly anticipated sophomore was forced to sit out a season due to NCAA regulations. 

“The hardest thing was to be on the bench,” Sissoko said. “I was just missing basketball.”

But that wasn’t the only thing keeping her off the court. 

Sissoko spent much of her freshman year at Syracuse recovering from a torn left meniscus. An accelerated return proved harmful as loose bodies, fragments of detached cartilage or bone, were found in Sissoko’s knee later that year, causing her to miss the summer with the French national team. This time, she was committed to seeing the rehab through to prevent any future injuries. So much so, she didn’t even apply for a waiver to play immediately. 

“I really wanted to start from zero and focus a lot on my knee because that’s something I didn’t do at Syracuse,” she said. “I knew I had to focus on my recovery.”

Sissoko said the knee feels “really good” now and she isn’t worried about it moving forward.

Whalen said she is excited to finally use her in games and see the potential Sissoko’s demonstrated in practice translate onto the court when it counts. 

“She turned a lot of heads in practice. She cuts well, she can rebound, score the ball, defend. She’s unlike anybody we have on the roster right now being able to play multiple positions with her length,” Whalen said. 

Her length and versatility could prove vital to the Gophers this season, who will need to fill two spots in the starting lineup after the departure of Jasmine Brunson and Taiye Bello. While she was recruited as a guard out of high school, Sissoko is currently designated as a forward on Minnesota’s roster. Standing at 6-foot-2-inches, Sissoko believes she can play guard or forward for Minnesota this season. 

“In [the] French national team, I would play as a four or as a two, and they were using me pretty much anywhere, and that’s a part of my game that I think is really good,” said Sissoko, who models her game after WNBA player and former Minnesota Lynx guard Seimone Augustus along with the NBA’s Kevin Durant. 

After averaging just 3.2 points and 1.8 rebounds in under 10 minutes a game in her freshman season at Syracuse, Sissoko will be expected to assume a larger role this season. 

“There’s no question Kadi’s going to be in the mix for a starting spot from the moment we first step on the court,” Whalen said.

Sissoko said it was a big adjustment coming from France to the United States with two contrasting play styles. In France, the game is slower, with an emphasis placed on a fluid, pass-heavy offense. But in the U.S., the pace is ramped up, and there’s more opportunity for individuality and creativity. 

While Sissoko called the new style a “shock” during her time at Syracuse, she believes it will actually fit her best long term. 

“I play with a lot of energy and I’m really aggressive. I try to work on every part of my game, and that’s something that’s really important to me,” she said.

What excites Whalen is her defense and her ability to move fluidly and make the right cuts. Those aspects are a catalyst of French basketball, Whalen said, and caused her to have some of her toughest games when she played on the U.S. national team. 

Sissoko is currently at home in Paris and has been trying to shoot at a nearby park to maintain her form. She hopes to return to campus without issue once the University allows student-athletes to return to practice. 

Sissoko attributes the patience she gained after a year on the sidelines to managing the uncertainty around when she can return to the U.S. It has also lit a fire inside her — one the Gophers hope will return her to the stature that made her the highest ranked recruit to play for Minnesota since Rachel Banham. 

“Not being able to play for a year has made me more motivated. I just want to play. I just want to be great,” she said.