Syracuse’s basketball season is less than two weeks away, and we chatted with former Orange center Baye Moussa Keita on this week’s The Juice on the Cuse Podcast, presented by SNY.tv, to get his take on the upcoming year.
“I’m always excited to see the team,” Keita said. “Coach (Jim) Boeheim is like a magician. When you perform your art, you do different things to see what fits and what (doesn’t).”
One of Boeheim’s tricks over the past half decade has been finding a way to guide Syracuse teams with lesser talent to the NCAA Tournament, often making deep runs despite a higher seed.
“We always find a way to make a run,” Keita said. “Every year there is a different challenge. With all of the people transferring, there’s going to be a challenge getting new guys into the system and getting them to run our offense. I’m excited to see how the pieces come together.”
Keita appeared in 142 games during his four-year Orange career, and was part of one of the most successful periods of SU basketball. Aside from being a part of 119 wins, Keita was also a member of the 2013 team that made the NCAA Tournament Final Four.
“When I was in Syracuse, it was never a question of if we were going to the Tournament, it was where we were going,” Keita said. “We took that for granted.”
Syracuse has tailed off since Keita’s departure, averaging closer to 20 wins a season and has been on the NCAA bubble for the last six seasons. There are a variety of reasons for this, Keita said, rattling of a list of factors that included the departure of longtime assistant Mike Hopkins and the transition from the Big East to the ACC.
“In the Big East, we were like in a boxing match every single night,” Keita said. “When you were in the ACC, it was run and gun. Contact we were used to the Big East was in a foul in the ACC.”
As for Hopkins, Keita says that Syracuse has missed his vocalness and his calming presence since he took the head coaching job in 2017 at Washington.
“He was a mastermind and he always had something for us to do after practice,” Keita said. “He wasn’t just focused on the game, but also on your mental well being.”
Keita has remained involved with the team, and has close relationships with several players on the team, including center Bourama Sidibe.
Sidibe in many ways is cut from the same cloth as Sidibe: Two big men who have built their reputation on playing tough, rugged defense. But Sidibe has struggled staying healthy since arriving at Syracuse, only playing two games last season because of a knee injury.
The two still regularly exchange texts, with Keita always offering Sidibe encouragement.
“I tell him, ‘Next time, do X, Y and Z,” he said. “People who graduate come back and talk to you about what worked and what didn’t. That’s the Syracuse family right there. You always have someone there telling you what you need to be successful.”
As for Keita, after he graduated from Syracuse, he played two years of professional basketball overseas before finding a role in the NBA. Over the past three years, he’s worked as in the NBA’s International Grassroots Basketball Events and Operations department as an advisor.
In 2021, Keita’s portfolio has included a joint effort between the NBA and the Basketball Africa League (BAL), which just finished its inaugural season in Kigali, Rwanda.
“It was the first ever league in Africa,” Keita said. “I was excited to be someone from the continent going back and impacting not just the youth, but the basketball landscape.”