Every person has a story. The story always begins when you are born. After that moment, each story heads down its own path. Every experience and moment we live helps shape us into the person we are. Eventually, we get to a point where we can be understood by our story. Every single person is important because of one simple fact; they have a story. The human experience can be defined by the simple act of sharing our stories. For redshirt freshman Moulaye Sissoko, the story of his journey is nothing short of awe-inspiring. His story begins in the northwest African country of Mali. So, how does a kid from Mali end up in the Midwest North American city of Dayton, Ohio? For that, we will start way back to when Big Mou (pronounced BIG MOO) wasn’t so big.

Big Mou was born on November 17, 1999 into a big loving family. The son of Hawa Diarra and Mamadou Sissoko, Big Mou was the sixth of their seven kids. As a child in Mali, life was very different. Big Mou described it as “A lot of soccer and other outdoor activities.” As a child, he remembers some of his favorite activities included hunting and fishing. When he and his friends would go hunting, they would use a bow and arrow to hunt lizards, squirrels, birds, and rabbits. In addition to hunting, they would also go fishing. However, as Big Mou remembers, they caught fish a little different. “We would use our hands to catch the fish,” said Big Mou. When they weren’t hunting or fishing, they were probably playing soccer. That was his first love and the sport that he focused on.

As Big Mou was growing up in Mali, his story was beginning to take shape. However, as happens with any child, there were a couple of defining moment moments that really helped guide him in the early stages of his journey. One of those moments came when he was nine years old. As a self-described “very stubborn child” Moulaye was, at some points, a problem child for his parents. It took a special moment with his father, Mamadou, to help set him on the path of good. He remembers specifically his dad telling him, “No matter what, you must remember where you come from.” This moment of enlightenment for Big Mou has stuck with him. It helped reinforce a sense of community that he felt from his home. The community is always there to support and love him. And, in return, he had to do the same.

As Moulaye reached his teen years, his story continued to unfold. At age 14, he got really sick. However, in those moments when he was sick is also when something else happened. He grew. And then he grew some more. Over a foot in two years. Suddenly, the younger brother was transforming into a man. It was at this time when suddenly the idea of playing basketball was brought to Big Mou and his family. While this new path emerged, it quickly became apparent that this sport would be able to open a whole bevy of new doors for Moulaye Sissoko and his family. So, with the help of many people, Mou’s journey with basketball began.

As it became increasingly apparent that Big Mou had a bright future in basketball, many began to help the Sissoko family with getting him the necessary exposure to reach the highest levels. One individual, Tidiane Dramé, helped Big Mou tremendously. Tidiane is well known for helping a lot of kids in Mali realize their dreams. With the help of Dramé and others, Big Mou suddenly found himself on the way out of Mali and heading straight for the United States. The next chapter of the journey was about to begin.

As Big Mou landed in the United States, the first priority was getting up to speed with the language and culture of the United States. So, for a couple of months, Big Mou and others took intensive English language courses and learned about life in the United States. As he stayed with his sponsors, Angela and Danny Doyle, he started going to school and playing basketball in United States. He started playing at Central Park Christian in Birmingham, Ala., before transferring to Lincoln. Academy in Georgia. As he continued to grow and develop his game, he also became more comfortable with life in the United States.

Before he knew it, suddenly Big Mou was starting to be recruited by multiple college programs. This process was very new and, at times, a bit overwhelming. However, with the help and guidance of the Doyles, Big Mou found himself on an official visit to the University of Dayton. As Big Mou was on the visit, it just felt like home. “Everyone was treating me as if I was part of their family already. They treated me as a human being first, and then an athlete,” said Big Mou. “It felt like home.”

That visit was back in 2018. Fast forward to today, Big Mou is now on campus with a full year of college under his belt. As Big Mou reflects back on his journey to this point, he has absolutely zero regrets. When asked if there is anything that he misses about being back home in Mali, he is quick to say his mother, Hawa Diarra’s, food. As he said, “It is the best food in the world. Especially the Yassa. I have made it for the guys, and it is officially Jalen and Obi approved!” While he still talks with his siblings and parents back in Mali on a regular basis, he has found new family here in the states. Whether it is his teammates and coaches, others from Mali, friends at school or his guardians, Big Mou is constantly surrounded by family. The story of Big Mou and his journey to today is nothing short of incredible. However, just like you and I, his story is still in progress. Not yet complete.

Because, just like you and I, there is still so much to be written in his story. For Big Mou, this is just the beginning.

The Flight is a weekly series that highlights the incredible stories of our student athletes on our Men's and Women's Basketball teams. Be on the lookout for new stories every Thursday and Friday throughout the summer.

Story and Graphics by: Ryan Phillips, Marketing and Digital Strategy Coordinator Dayton Flyer Athletics