Sidibe, heart of Stags, hurting, and so is Fairfield
FAIRFIELD -- He is the heart, the soul and the guts of the Fairfield Stags men's basketball team. And Amadou Sidibe is so much more.
Leader. Mentor. Captain. Brother-in-arms. Friend.
"He's my warrior." head coach Sydney Johnson said.
But right now, the warrior is hobbling. His left knee, which hampered him so badly last season, is acting up again. Tendinitis. And you know it has to be bad when the warrior takes himself out of a game, like he did last week against Marist. After scoring eight points and grabbing eight rebounds in 17 first-half minutes, he could only play one minute in the second half vs. the Red Foxes before heading to the bench and a large bag of ice.
Sparked by that first half, the Stags gutted out a win against Marist, but not so in following games against Monmouth, Canisius and Marist. Sidibe did not play against Monmouth and Marist. Fairfield lost both. He gave what he could (18 minutes) against Canisius. The Stags lost that one, too.
"Nine times out of ten, if Amadou can play, he's going to tell me he can play," said Johnson, whose Stags are 6-14 overall, 4-6 in the MAAC. "But (against Monmouth and Marist), Amadou felt too much in pain to play. That's important. Last year, we ran into a lot of trouble because Amadou tried to play through the pain and he was not playing well at all. If he had tried to play yesterday, you would have seen that Amadou of last year. I need him to be truthful with me. I can't have the kid playing through pain."
Which is what he did -- a lot -- last season, still managing to average 5.6 points and 6.6 rebounds in 32 games. But after a summer of rest and rehabilitation, Sidibe was bound and determined to put last season's 7-25 finish behind him. And over the initial 14 games, the 6-foot-8 junior forward, posted five double-doubles, including three in a row against Loyola (13 points-13 rebounds), Siena (10-11) and Rider (12-15).
But that's when the tendinitis flared up again. Sidibe played just 19 minutes in the rematch with Siena, then just 14 against Iona and 18 versus Marist. His three-game combined numbers? 20 points, 14 rebounds.
"The plan was to give him enough rest between games in order for him to be able to play the games," Johnson said. "Give him light work on game day and then give him a 30-minute (game) shot. Keep him out of practice, all that. Mentally, he's always there, but physically, unfortunately, that strategy didn't work.
"The trainers and the doctors have been on it every day but that approach didn't work. Amadou would go into games and there were times when he could give us something and other times, he couldn't get through it. He's the toughest kid we have in the program. When he's in pain, we have to assume that it's a lot of pain."
Johnson insists that this is not the end of Sidibe's season. That the new plan is to try to build back the strength and endurance in the knee and see how it responds. Because Fairfield needs Sidibe.
They need him badly.
"We just have a different energy when he's not out there," Johnson said.
If the Stags are to make something out of these last 10 regular-season games (starting Friday night against Monmouth at the Webster Bank Arena), then other players -- namely, Malcolm Gilbert and Coleman Johnson -- have to step up and give their head coach more than just flashes of consistency.
"With Malcolm in particular, it's making sure that he's in synch with the other four guys," Johnson said. "Everyone makes mistakes but if there's certain play calls or certain defensive schemes, he's got to be in synch with his teammates in the game. He plays tough and physical in practice and he has to carry that over into games. He should be intimidating to other teams we're playing. We want to see more of that."
So does all of Stag Nation. There has to be more of the kind of games when Malcolm Gilbert had five blocks against Bucknell or three blocks against Monmouth or six points against Duke or five points and four rebounds against Manhattan. Over the last 10 games, Malcolm Gilbert has scored just three points. That doesn't equal a lot of playing time.
The same goes for Johnson, who, since coming off a three-game suspension, is averaging just 3.6 points and 4.0 rebounds in eight games.
"Coleman also has to step up," Johnson said. "I think Malcolm and Coleman are the two guys that we need to have play better in order to weather this storm regarding Amadou because they're the guys that have to make plays for us, especially plays at the rim. We need them to convert."
Because right now, the heart, soul and guts of this Fairfield team is hobbling. Johnson's warrior needs to get healthy. The Stags' season depends on it.