With under 20 seconds of overtime to go in the 2016 DICK’s High School National title game in Madison Square Garden, the Oak Hill Academy Warriors needed a bucket.
As time ran down with the score tied at 60, Matt Coleman dribbled down the court and lifted a shot from the top of the arc. The shot was off, but under the rim wrestling for position was the 6-foot-9 tower that is Khadim Sy.
The Senegalese center reached up at the rebound, looking for the tip-in. The first one just missed, but the second tip fell in the basket as the buzzer sounded. Within seconds, Sy was at the bottom of a dog pile. He was finally a champion.
Khadim Sy, known simply as “Dream” to his teammates and coaches, went from a high school freshman sitting at the end of the bench getting zero minutes of play time to becoming a national championship hero in basketball mecca.
Sy’s high school arc is fitting, considering that change has been the only constant in his basketball career. He’s gone from starting at Virginia Tech as a college freshman to playing in junior college before becoming one of the top transfer recruits in the nation.
He’s been a chameleon since the dawn of his basketball life, suiting up for Senegal, Oak Hill Academy in Virginia, Virginia Tech, Tallahassee Community College, Virginia Tech again and Daytona State Community College, all in just a few years.
Sy’s voyage from Senegal to America now brings him to a new start in Oxford as a key piece in Kermit Davis’s basketball revival at Ole Miss.
Sy’s basketball journey didn’t start until he was a teenager. Wrestling is the national sport of Senegal, but because of limited access, Sy mostly played soccer as a child. However, his extraordinary height forced him off of the pitch and onto the court.
“When I started getting tall back in 2012, everybody would tell me every single day, ‘Oh you’re getting tall.’ I didn’t notice that at all,” he said. “Like, ‘You’re tall. You should start playing ball.’”
While he enjoyed playing soccer with his friends, Sy said he didn’t really fall in love with sports until he picked up the basketball.
Scouts quickly noticed his raw talent when he was still 6-foot-6 as a middle schooler, dominating the Sengalese leagues. It was Amadou Gallo Fall, current vice president and managing director for NBA Africa, who helped him get exposure with American high schools.
Sy was contacted by Oak Hill Academy head coach Steve Smith after being selected for the U-16 national basketball team in Senegal.
“I don’t know how they got my information. They reached out to me and (asked) me if I’m interested in coming to American to play ball for high school. I was like ‘of course,’” Sy said. “When I said yes, it took about a week or two, and then everything was done. After two weeks of communication, I was ready to move in here.”
Smith has coached 28 McDonald’s All-Americans and 17 future NBA players, including Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant and Rajon Rondo, at the prestigious boarding school in Mouth of Wilson, Virginia.
Still, Sy had to go through physical and mental growing pains before he could reach his potential in high school.
“When I came (to America), the first year was really tough. I was begging coach (Smith) to send me back to Senegal like every single week,” Sy said. “I was just like, ‘I don’t know if I can do this.’”
Oak Hill assistant coach Taylor Conn picked him up from the Charlotte airport and remembered Sy couldn’t speak any English. The only thing Sy knew how to say was that he played like Anthony Davis.
“We get on that huge shuttle, and there’s nobody on there,” Conn said. “I sit down in this really small seat, and (Sy) came and sat in the very next seat to me, squishing me into the wall. He still laughs about that.”
Conn’s parents, Randy and Pattie, helped Sy adjust to his new home as he’d visit during school breaks and holidays. They helped him with advice frequently, even helping him make his college decisions. Sy called them mom and dad and saw Taylor as a brother.
As he grew more and more comfortable off the court, he was able to establish himself on the court.
Sy gained 35 pounds in his first summer at Oak Hill and continued to develop his basketball skills until he had a major role on the team. The state-of-the-art facilities at Oak Hill helped Sy build his body and skill set to take on the top big men in the nation.
“I mean, we have pictures of him when he first got here and then two years later,” Smith said. “It was an unbelievable transformation in his body, but he put the work in. It didn’t happen just because we have a good weight program.”
Success at Oak Hill brought him the nickname “Dream,” along with notoriety on the recruiting trail as a three-star prospect with interest from Purdue, Georgia Tech and Georgetown. He decided to play for Buzz Williams at Virginia Tech, where he was thrown into a primary role after another player’s injury allowed him to start 28 games as a freshman.
The promising start ended in a roller coaster, however, as Sy grew unhappy in Blacksburg and left the team to transfer to Tallahassee Community College, only to return to Virginia Tech before ever suiting up for a game in Tallahassee.
Sy rejoined the Hokies but was redshirted by Williams at the start of the season before leaving the team again to go to Daytona State College. There, Sy averaged 16.8 points and 9.8 rebounds in 30 games as a redshirt sophomore, catching the eye of multiple division one coaches.
“It was really tough at some point because I didn’t expect it to be that crazy,” Sy said. “But to be honest, I’m really thankful that I went through all that because it humbled me better. It made me grateful about what I have, knowing that, you know, you can’t have this thing today and not have it tomorrow.”
Preparing for another transition, Sy said he was searching for a coach and a program he could trust to make the adjustment easier. After looking at East Carolina, Pittsburgh, Arkansas and Auburn, the four-star chose Kermit Davis and the Ole Miss Rebels.
The fact that Sy played with junior guard and fellow Oak Hill alumnus Devontae Shuler and that his Daytona State teammate Bryce Williams also chose to play at Ole Miss didn’t hurt, but Sy said most of his decision was made off of his meetings with Kermit Davis.
“I’ve got trust issues. I’m going to tell you straight up,” Sy said. “I trust the coaches 100%. I trust my teammates 100%. Most of the time, I don’t really ask the coach anything about the team. I’m just asking them personally what’s the purpose of recruiting me. So after that, when I need to know about the team, I ask the players.”
Sy’s relationship with Shuler and Williams has been the bridge to every other teammate since he arrived in Oxford in May.
“I come down and find out the whole team, they’re all cool,” he said. “Like, it took me two, three days to just get along with all of them and get to know them. Usually, (it) took me about a month to make sure I got every one of their names right and stuff. But with this situation, it just clicked.”
That chemistry will be put to the test as Sy has pressure to live up to his nickname in the Davis system this season. His presence in the paint is something that has been missing from past Ole Miss squads.
Sy’s contribution as a rim protector and scorer in the paint with his 6-foot-10 frame adds another dimension to the Ole Miss attack ready to explode in the next two years.
Oxford is just the latest of Sy’s many homes, and his journey to Ole Miss, while unusual, is a story of perseverance. As Sy continues to work, he hopes to find himself under another dog pile.
“I came here, (and) I get along with everybody,” Sy said. “I feel like I’m home.”