Pape Sy's Road Less Travelled

Wednesday, September 15, 2010
By Jon Newberry

While much of Pape Sy’s background and life story is still relatively unknown, the most recent chapter makes for a great read.

The typical NBA prospect flies around the country to participate in a slew of workouts for any team that will spring for a flight and a room in a nice hotel. For Pape Sy there was only one city on his itinerary (Atlanta) and he and his agent were responsible for footing the bill. While they didn’t view Pape as a likely draft pick early in the process, Hawks GM Rick Sund and his staff were happy to take a look at the 22-year old that had spent the last three seasons playing in France.

“He’s a guy that most people haven’t really heard about,” commented Head Coach Larry Drew following the draft in June. “To be perfectly honest, I had never heard of him either, until he came in here and worked out.”

The Hawks’ European scout, Loize Milosavljevic, had seen Sy play, and passed along game tapes to Sund and his staff, but with limited minutes it was tough for Pape’s potential to shine through. For those fans unfamiliar with the European leagues, young players are rarely given much playing time. For example, Brandon Jennings played a season overseas and averaged under 18 minutes per game before transitioning to the NBA where his minutes nearly doubled (over 32 per game) and his points almost tripled (15.5 ppg).

In the end, it may have been Sy’s lack of playing time that prevented him from attracting interest from other NBA suitors. Milosavljevic endorsed Sy’s request to workout for the team, and it was then that he made an impression. He is 6’7” and handles the ball very well for his size, but it was his aggressive defense that really caught the eye of the Hawks coaches during a pair of workouts.

On draft night Sy was deep into the audience at the Theatre at Madison Square Garden. When his name was called as the 53rd overall pick he slowly emerged from the shadows and quickly donned a new hat with Hawks colors and logos.

From there the initial plan was to keep Sy in France for another year and let him develop his skills. Many teams, including the Hawks, use that strategy and retain their rights to players without signing them to contracts.

That plan was altered after Sy played with the Hawks Summer League team in Las Vegas this past July. He was limited in the games by an Achilles injury, but in the workouts leading up to the summer league the Hawks coaches were encouraged by Sy’s size and athleticism. Having passed another test, the Hawks saw enough upside in Sy that they made the decision to pursue a buyout of his contract with STB Le Havre, his team in France.

That brings us to today. With the negotiations of the buyout complete, Pape has made the long trip back to Atlanta to sign an official deal with the Hawks. He is still following a unique path as he experiences a new city that he describes as simply “BIG”. He is in a new country, and while he speaks clear English, adapting to the culture on his own is a great challenge for a 22-year old. Considering the long odds that Pape has overcome in the past three months, he should have no problems.

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