When 10-year-old Jibril Diakite watched the Final Four last season with his foster care mentor, he noticed something interesting on the TV screen.
“That player has the same name as me on his jersey, but the announcers are calling the name out wrong,” Jibril told Kathy Sullivan, his mentor who works with Rhode Island Student Assistant Services.
Naturally, Jibril gravitated to Mamadi Diakite, the Virginia player with the same last name. He followed the Cavaliers as they won the national championship, and he became a UVa fan because of Mamadi.
Sullivan, who welcomes Jibril into her house every weekend, started to research UVa’s talented forward. She found that both Jibril and Mamadi were from Africa, and as she told friends about her findings, they suggested she try to attend a Virginia game with Jibril.
Sullivan and Jibril reside in Rhode Island, so they decided the Air Force Reserve Tip-Off tournament in Uncasville, Connecticut, was the perfect time to catch a Virginia game. Sullivan’s friend then reached out to UVa to arrange a meet and greet. Sullivan called her friend’s email a “shot in the dark.”
Much to Sullivan’s surprise, Virginia responded.
Meg Swab, UVa basketball’s administrative assistant, and Ronnie Wideman, the associate AD for men’s basketball operations, helped set up a meeting between the players and Jibril. Sullivan said Swab and Wideman “went above and beyond” to make the meeting happen.
After this past weekend’s games, Jibril met Mamadi Diakite and his teammates.
“This little boy said he was almost crying he was in such joy,” Sullivan. “There was one moment when all of the players came over to him to greet him, and he was in awe. It was just wonderful.”
It’d be easy for a 10-year-old who loves basketball to become star struck in the presence of the defending national champions. But Jibril isn’t your average 10-year-old.
He asked Jay Huff why he was using ice packs on his knees after the game, and he rattled off a series of questions. The Cavaliers happily answered all his inquiries.
“They were all so nice,” Sullivan said. “They went up to him and shook his hand, asked how old he was. They made him feel comfortable, which was lovely.”
Mamadi was on the phone with his dad during part of the meeting, so they were able to pinpoint where Jibril is from in proximity to Mamadi. According to Mamadi, they’re from the same area, but still “a little far from each other.”
“I’m very focused on the season, but those moments tell you it’s more than basketball,” Mamadi said.
The experience left Jibril with a big grin on his face and a new group of extraordinarily tall friends. A few months after seeing Mamadi Diakite on his TV screen, the young basketball fan from Rhode Island made a friend for life.
“To me, especially around the holidays, being able to provide joy to a kid like this, there’s nothing better,” Sullivan. “I feel very grateful for that. In fact, he and I had a nice long conversation. Sometimes there’s things that you can get that are important, but the gift of an event or an opportunity is so much more valuable and priceless.
“I think he’s a kid that will never forget that moment of meeting Mamadi. It brought tears to my eyes.”