Sidy Cissoko, the No. 25 prospect in the ESPN 2023 mock draft, told ESPN that he has signed with the NBA's G League Ignite program.
"We explored several options with my agents and I was convinced G League Ignite was the best opportunity to achieve my goals," Cissoko said Tuesday. "The ability of this program to maximize the potential of its players on and off the court convinced me. Even more, the tailor-made development program and opportunity to start my transition to the US game style, 3-point line and off-court life is a key asset. I felt during our conversations with the staff that I was a priority."
The 18-year-old Cissoko, the No. 3-ranked prospect in his generation in Europe after fellow Frenchmen Victor Wembanyama and Rayan Rupert, continues an increasing shift that G League Ignite have made in prioritizing international players in the wake of name, image and likeness deals that have altered the landscape of American and college recruiting.
Cissoko will attempt to follow in the footsteps of Australian Dyson Daniels, who was similarly projected upon signing with Ignite a year ago but ended up boosting his draft stock dramatically and was selected No. 8 overall in this year's draft by the New Orleans Pelicans.
"Dyson shows the ability of the G League to get international players drafted high," Cissoko said. "It was interesting to see how he was used on the court, as we play the same position, even though our games are different. He had a great season and improved a lot during his year with Ignite. Improvements and hard work are what I am looking for."
Cissoko joins projected 2023 draft No. 2 pick Scoot Henderson on Ignite's roster for the 2022-23 season, as well as 6-foot-10 forward Leonard Miller from Canadian high school Fort Erie International Academy and Nigerian Efe Abogidi, who was recruited out of the NCAA transfer portal from Washington State.
Ignite is eyeing several additional international signings from Europe, the NBA Academy and the U.S. high school system, a source told ESPN. Ignite landed a commitment last month from Lithuanian wing Matas Buzelis, a rising high school senior who will join the program in a year's time after a season with Sunrise Christian Academy in Wichita.
Cissoko said Ignite's success recruiting international players makes sense due to the focus it places on player development.
"This program is tailor-made to help us to achieve our objectives," Sissoko said. "It provides a unique opportunity for on-court development which is ahead of its time compared to most other organizations worldwide with NBA-level coaching. The off-court development they offered was appealing as well with the focus on life skills, education, well-being and more. It gives an opportunity for international players to be involved in the NBA ecosystem, with NBA exposure, which is essential to promoting us."
Cissoko, a 6-foot-7, long-armed guard, burst onto the NBA radar screens at last summer's FIBA U18 European Championship in Tel Aviv, where he demonstrated his intriguing blend of strength, court vision and defensive potential. He had several eye-opening performances this past season playing for Euroleague team Baskonia's second team in LEB Gold, scoring 16 points or more eight times against older professionals at just 17 years old.
Cissoko earned an invite to the Nike Hoop Summit in Portland this past April, where he had some ups and downs in practices, scrimmages and the official game, but overall looked like the World Select team's second-best prospect alongside future Ignite teammate Leonard Miller.
Cissoko said the transition from the Spanish second division to the G League will provide a unique challenge.
"The G League is way more athletic and physical than LEB Gold. G League players are extremely aggressive, and the game is faster," he said. "Obviously, staying in Baskonia was an option as the Euroleague is the best league in the world after the NBA and the ACB, the best national league. I am convinced that I could have also continued to learn in these leagues.
"However, I felt that at this time the most important thing for my development was to embrace a project that is centered on my individual development and my transition to a different game style, while keeping the best of what I had learned in Europe."
Cissoko is currently training with the French under-18 national team in its preparations for the FIBA U18 European Championship, which starts on July 30 in Izmir, Turkey. He's slated to join Ignite at their new headquarters in Henderson, Nevada, after the event.
"I'm looking forward to meeting all the staff and my future teammates," he said. "I will have different type of tests in the beginning to build my individual plan, and then the work will start. I discussed with the staff and we are on the same page, the next months are about hard work and improvement. My goal is to be drafted in the top 10 in 2023, and my work ethic has the ability to convince a franchise to pick me. I always fought to be an asset in everything I was involved in, it will remain the same next season."
Jonathan Givony is an NBA draft expert and the founder and co-owner of DraftExpress.com, a private scouting and analytics service utilized by NBA, NCAA and International teams.