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Commitment to Michigan State Spartans comes after an extraordinary journey for Wasatch Academy’s Mady Sissoko

Sissoko barely knew how to dribble a basketball when he came to the United State from Mali about three years ago.

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Brantzen Blackner, left, and Joey Lambeth of Canyon View High School defend Mady Sissoko of Wasatch Academy during basketball in Mt. Pleasant on Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018.

Brantzen Blackner, left, and Joey Lambeth of Canyon View High School defend Mady Sissoko of Wasatch Academy during basketball in Mt. Pleasant on Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

MT. PLEASANT, Sanpete County — Recruitment to play at the collegiate level is often a complex and dramatic journey for most prep prospects, but in the case of Wasatch Academy’s Mady Sissoko, the journey likely surpasses most.

Surrounded by all his teammates, coaches and others central in his life, Sissoko made his decision to commit to sign with Michigan State on Tuesday. He chose the Spartans over offers from Memphis, Kansas and BYU, among many others, and plans on signing his letter of intent this coming November.

The process to get to the point he arrived at on Tuesday began in 2016, when Mike Clayton, who works as an ophthalmologist in Provo, traveled to Mali as part of a humanitarian mission to help provide medical care. When there, Clayton was approached by Sissoko’s older brother regarding the possibility of bringing Mady to the United States.

“He just wanted his brother to get an education,” Clayton said. “But you could tell immediately how athletic he was and obviously how tall he was.”

Sissoko, who stands in at 6-foot-9, had never played basketball up to that point, according to Clayton, although the potential was easy to see.

“We had him dunk some balls and when he’d jump, his elbow would make it clear up to the rim,” Clayton recalled. “So we discussed bringing him over to put him in a position where he could get a good education and develop his athletic talent.”

About three months after Clayton’s trip, Sissoko made his way to the United States and immediately enrolled at Wasatch Academy.

To say the transition from Mali to rural Utah was difficult would be a gross understatement.

“That first year was very, very hard for me,” Sissoko said. “But fortunately I had teammates and enough people who really cared about me to help me through all of it.”

One of the bigger hurdles came with the language. Sissoko didn’t speak a word of English but fortunately had a teammate he could communicate with in French, which helped him out tremendously.

Given his great athleticism, Sissoko began to take to basketball immediately and was quickly noticed by college recruiters, namely BYU, which presented him with an offer shortly after he arrived at Wasatch.

Normally that first offer is a big deal for recruits, but for Sissoko, it didn’t dawn on him initially as to what it meant.

“I honestly had no idea why there were asking me so much about me and anything. It was confusing what they really wanted at first,” Sissoko recalled. “But once I learned about what it was all about — oh, man, it was unbelievable. I’m so thankful for BYU to offer me because that was my dream to play in college.”

As Sissoko progressed in his ability on the hardwood, the offers came pouring in, up to the point where he could pretty much name which school he wanted to attend. Ultimately that school turned out to be Michigan State, for a variety of reasons.

“It just felt like the place I needed to be when I was there on my visits,” Sissoko said. “I love the coaching staff and everything they have to offer. It’s always felt right.”

As for his development into the player and person he is today, it’s all about work, according to Wasatch coach Dave Evans.

“He was really, really raw when I first saw him play, but you could immediately see he was special,” Evans said. “Although basketball wasn’t natural for him, what is natural for him is his work ethic. He’s a natural worker and just outworks everyone. That’s why he’s where he’s at today and is why he’s just going to continue to get better and better.”