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Syracuse basketball preseason player profiles: Bourama Sidibe

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Can Bourama Sidibe remain healthy in 2019-20?

NCAA Basketball: Texas Southern at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

As we march closer to the beginning of the Syracuse basketball season, we’ll continue along with our preseason player profiles. Today’s profile is junior big man Bourama Sidibe.

Position: Center

Class: Junior

Vitals: 6-foot-10, 205 lbs

Stats: Averaged 2.7 points and 3.2 rebounds in 12.4 minutes per game last season

Scouting report: As a freshman, Bourama Sidibe arrived on campus a mobile, shot-blocking presence who could steadily score on the roll in 2017. SU boasted the tallest center in the country at that time, but Paschal Chukwu’s backup had a range of skills likely to supersede him. Instead, by 2019, he disappeared on the court.

Tendinitis slowed Sidibe to no movement, and few minutes flowed his way. It became difficult to remember he was on the roster. He underwent surgery in the 2018 offseason and returned lacking explosion. He could run, yet bursts off the ground remained difficult. That misfortune changed when Boeheim abandoned his front line to threw Marek Dolezaj in at center instead of Sidibe.

NCAA Basketball: Buffalo at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

The highlight of Sidibe’s career at Syracuse thus far was a double-double outing at Pittsburgh in his freshman year. The Orange visited a Panther team that would finish 0-18 in the ACC, but it would’ve won one, if not for Sidibe’s meddling minutes. Sidibe tore through the Panthers for 18 points and 16 rebounds.

He never reached that level again. Many nights Boeheim favored center minutes for Dolezaj over playing Sidibe at all. Sidibe’s strong five games to begin 2018-19 slid into few appearances or production the rest of the season. After a three-block spurt against Clemson, playing alongside Dolezaj, Boeheim stood puzzled about the recovery too.

NCAA Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament-Duke vs Syracuse Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Two years removed from surgery, Syracuse will quickly find out if Sidibe was hurt — or ever any good. Remember the late bloomer though. Sidibe learned Spanish, English and basketball in a rapid run of years, only to face his first confusing major injury setback.

Preseason games in Italy did featured him owning the interior. He record 28 points, 31 rebounds and 10 blocks in the first three games. ACC play will require more movement, fluidity and strength to challenge larger centers and reach the perimeter in the zone.

Still, he’s Boeheim’s only hope to retain the Syracuse defensive tendencies. If Sidibe can recreate Chukwu’s shot-blocking presence, the Orange will play a large zone. Sidibe’s avoidance of fouls will likely swing whether Dolezaj will play any center.

Sidibe adeptly frames defenders out of help position on drives by guards. He can roll off picks or drop behind zones. He’s also a lob threat for Jalen Carey. Dolezaj prefers facing-up from mid-range and three, using higher positions on the court to pass into the low post.

If Sidibe can’t play, this picture quickly complicates. Jesse Edwards and John Bol Ajak have no played NCAA minutes. Every step down the ladder leads Syracuse to smaller lineups, with less zone experience. Sidibe’s forgotten presence could become production taken for granted if all goes well.

If he returns to his recruitment roots, as an imposing shot-blocker, the Orange both establish a foundation and style they’re comfortable with. Not to mention a welcome change from the offensive inactivity inside the past few seasons.