Sika Koné: The prodigious basketball star shooting towards greatness 

Destined for the WNBA, the young Malian is reputed to be the best African player of her generation thanks to her ability to punish in both attack and defence. 

By Chloe Merrell
Picture by CREDIT: Nikola Krstic, Panoramic

“With the 29th pick in the 2022 WNBA Draft the New York Liberty select Sika Koné.”

Watching the WNBA’s annual draft take place in Spring Studios from her television back in Spain 20-year-old Sika Koné could hardly believe it.

“Alhamoulilah. Thank you god for making this happen. This was my dream!! The WNBA!,” the Malian basketball player reacted on her social media once the news had sunk in.

After years of studying the movements of Chicago Sky’s Candace Parker on old recordings of the WNBA – the league she set herself the goal of making at 15 years old – the final puzzle piece had fallen into place.

For those on the outside watching on Koné’s selection was much less of a surprise.

The 1.9m tall power forward had become a consistent standout both on the international stage and for her club SPAR Gran Canaria in Spain, so much so some even projected her to go in the first round.

While injury may have side-lined her for the 2022 season, confidence remains high that when the Malian does eventually step onto the WNBA stage, she will surely shine.

And there can be little doubt that 11 April, 2022 will forever be marked as a significant chapter in a story that began 4,000 miles (6,500 km) away from the United States in Bamako, Mali.

From Mali to New York via Spain

Koné first picked up a basketball at 10 years old when a friend insisted she should give it a try.

With the frenetic energy that comes with youth Koné quickly fell in love with game, developing the necessary skillset needed to see her climb high, fast.

At the age of 12 the young basketball talent made it into the feeder club for the Mali national team and just 12 months after that, she was selected with four others to attend a national training camp. Her potential was immediately spotted and a tap on the shoulder.

Keep training, and come back at 16 – she was told. “That made me work hard,” Koné said to ESPN recounting her rise through the ranks.

What the 13-year-old Koné didn’t know then was that her burgeoning dream of becoming a basketball player would come sooner than she might imagine.

A year later the Malian heard from a friend that there was a basketball camp being held in Bamako, the country’s capital, where after four days, they would hand out the best players a scholarship to study at a British academy school in Spain.

Despite missing the first two days Koné convinced the coaches to let her shoot her shot and the power forward didn’t miss. At the conclusion of the camp her name was announced and her future abroad confirmed.

And after her parents’ concerns was allayed the 15-year-old was on the plane to Spain ready for her next challenge.

The relentless hustle to improve

Within two years of being at the Canterbury School in Las Palmas Gran Canaria Koné was recruited to CB Adareva Tenerfige, a team in the Spanish Junior League and not before long, word of her talent spread like wild fire.

Hearing for himself about the Malian prospect Jose Carlos Ramos, head coach of SPAR Gran Canaria, went to pay Koné a visit. Impressed by what he saw he invited her to play for his team.

“She is the beating heart [of the team] on court,” Ramos said to ESPN, describing Koné’s court craft. “She gets a rebound on defence, passes the ball, runs the court, scores. If she fails she passes the ball to a teammate, if the teammate fails she will get that same rebound.

“What I mean is that in the same sequence she can do five, six or even eight different plays such as blocking, rebounding, assisting, scoring baskets or coming back on defence.”

Ramos quickly discovered that Koné’s doggedness on the court was matched by her attitude off it, particularly when it came to training.

The Malian developed a reputation among her team-mates for her insatiable work ethic. She would turn up to training two hours ahead of the scheduled start time and was always the last to leave.

"We had to tell her, 'Look, we are going to close the training complex, you have to go home,'" recalled the coach, continuing to ESPN.

But her tenacity was paying off on the stats sheet. In the 2021-2022 season Koné averaged 14.0 points and 11.6 rebounds a game.

From youth tournaments to now Koné has always impressed for Mali
Picture by Nikola Krstic;Panoramic

Standing out in the international arena

Just as she was electrifying in Spain, the remarkable talent began to soar for Mali.

From her debut in 2017 to now, Koné has been nothing short of impressive in her national colours, showing why she is often dubbed a ‘double threat’.

At the 2021 U19 Women’s Basketball World Cup in Hungary Koné made history with Mali, lifting the African nation to its first-ever semi-final appearance in the FIBA tournament.

Proving that she is a player set apart from the rest, she was elected into the all-tournament team alongside Americans Caitlin Clark and Sonia Citron after leading all players with 19.7 points per game and 14.8 rebounds.

A few months after, Koné returned for Mali but this time in the senior team, where she played her part in getting the country a second-place finish at the 2021 AfroBasket tournament behind Nigeria’s D’Tigeresses.

Making her late mother proud

Koné's international performances prompted those watching to identify Koné as a prospect for the 2022 WNBA Draft.

Such talk excited the power forward whose focus had shifted to making it across the Atlantic after her study of English led her to video clips of the WNBA.

Making the American league was an ambition she had also shared in 2021 with her late mother, who had supported her basketball aspirations ever since Koné had come home asking for money to pay for court hire when she first discovered basketball.

Sure enough, in January of this year, Koné doubled down on her dream and declared for the Draft. It was a decision that paid off after her selection four months later.

Sadly for the basketball prodigy, her mother passed away of an undisclosed illness just weeks before Koné's life-changing moment meaning she never got to see her daughter’s hopes realised.

For the athlete that always asked herself at any big, decision-making moment if the result would make her mother proud, the loss was a devastating blow. “Rest In Peace maman and thank you for everything. I will continue to work hard for you,” Koné wrote when reacting to her Draft news.

While she may have to wait a little while longer before she can say she’s truly made it to the WNBA, with her already infamous never-say-die attitude and her tangible star power, there is an overwhelming feeling that when it comes to Sika Kone, the best is still yet to come.

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